Buster Keaton’s 1926 film “The General” is a silent live action-drama film that was intended to portray real events based on the first two years in the south during the American Civil War. As a result of this film several shots, the music, and the overall plot was shaped up to portray comedy during a difficult time in history. During the civil war, it was important for men to be enlisted as a soldier because they thought it was their duty and honor to fight for their country. In this case, the main character’s fiancé, Annabelle, wanted him to be a part of the army, but the first registration site denied his entrance because the town feared they would lose one of their most valuable employees. As a result, she told him she was going to disown him if he did not join the army.
Despite the filmset not being in the south, the production crew successfully duplicated the scene in Oregon that was originally desired in Georgia. This was because they were denied access to use the trains in the south. The film’s main intention was to provide a thrill and drama when two locomotives chase each other, so it was important to duplicate this idea. One was stolen to the north and was recaptured and the other was a chase to the south for the stolen locomotive to be captured again. During those scenes, the actors performed dangerous stunts ranging from pouring hot water from the steam locomotive towers to destroying railroad tracks so the chases could end quickly. This was done because Keaton’s intention was likely to provide comedic actions to the viewers to enjoy this film to the very end.
As to many of the moments during the chase scene, the cinematography and music synced up successfully creating suspenseful scenes. This was done to give the viewers anticipation that something bad or shocking is about to occur. Most of the shots throughout the film were wide shots, which felt like a disadvantage because whenever something important was going to be shown, Keaton could have cut to a close-up or medium shot for the viewers to make themselves a part of the story or to enhance the mood and tone of certain scenes. During this time in American film history, films were often slow, lacked certain camera angles, lacked plot, and how actors portray themselves to the viewers.
This film was lacking important components for it to be a success. The use of wide-angle shots was redundant which makes viewers assume that this could be a comedy film due to the lack of emotions and details shown from the characters. The drama portrayed at the beginning was also comedy because there was a scene when the main character was asked to go enlist himself in the army and when he went to run out the door, he did it so dramatically. The main idea for “The General” was to portray how the Union spies stole a passenger train to the north where they were eventually captured, but instead “The General” was a film that damaged Keaton’s film career because of his lack of empathy towards the American Civil War.