Freeze Frame #18: The General

How many of you have seen a Buster Keaton movie? He’s not as well-known as Charlie Chaplin, but his comedic talents are no less prodigious. He was also an amazingly courageous stunt man – not only did he do his own stunts – some of them quite amazing – he even used to be a stunt double for some of the other actors in his films. Knowing this fact makes it all the more impressive when you see his films. A stunt I was particularly impressed by is one in Steamboat Bill Jr. where he’s standing before a house and the wall comes down on him, but he goes right through an open window on the wall. Roger Ebert mentions in his essay on Buster’s films, that he didn’t rehearse that scene because he trusted his crew and his planning and was confident it would go off well.

However, my iconic Buster Keaton moment, the one that immediately springs to mind every time his name is mentioned, is from The General. Buster has just been refused an opportunity to enlist as part of the Confederate army in the Civil War, since his skills as an engineer are considered far more valuable. His girlfriend, however, refuses to listen to his explanations, and declines to talk to him unless he is in uniform. Dejected, Buster goes back to the railway yard and sits on the crossbar of his engine, wishing he could solve this problem. Unbeknownst to him, his assistant has gotten into the cab of the engine and started it. The scene ends with the visual of Buster being carried along on the cross-bar, his thin frame carried up and down with its movements.

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