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The General (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 30, 2010 by  



A true Buster Keaton masterpiece that is indeed one of the greatest films of all time.  The Blu-ray version of “The General” is absolutely incredible.  Highly recommended!

© 2009 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The General

DURATION: 78 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Full-Frame (1:33:1), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

RATED: NOT RATED

COMPANY: KINO International

RELEASE DATE: November 10, 2009

Based on the book “Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure” and “The Great Locomotive Chase” by William Pittenger

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton

Written by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman

Adaptation by Al Boassberg, Charles Henry Smith

Executive Producer: Joseph M. Schenck

Producer: Buster Keaton, Joseph M. Schenk

Musical Score by Carl Davis and the Thames Silent Orchestra, Robert Israel, Lee Irwin

Cinematography by Bert Haines, Devereaux Jennings

Edited by Buster Keaton, Sherman Kell

Art Direction by Fred Gabourie

Set Decoration by Harry Roselotte

Starring:

Buster Keaton as Johnn Gray

Marion Mack as Annabelle Lee

Glen Cavender as Captain Anderson

Jim Farley as General Thatcher

Frederick Vroom as a Southern General

Charles Henry Smith as Annabelle’s Father

Frank Barnes as Annabelle’s Brother

Joe Keaton, Mike Donlin and Tom Nawn as the Union Generals

Mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print
struck from the original camera negative

Consistently ranked among the greatest films ever made, Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL is so brilliantly conceived and executed that it continues to inspire awe and laughter with every viewing. This Kino Ultimate 2 Disc Edition was mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print struck from the original camera negative.

Rejected by the Confederate army and taken for a coward by his beloved Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), young Johnny Gray (Keaton) is given a chance to redeem himself when Yankee spies steal his cherished locomotive. Johnny wages a one-man war against hijackers, an errant cannon and the unpredictable hand of fate while roaring along the iron rails. “Every shot has the authenticity and the unassuming correct composition of a Mathew Brady Civil War photograph,” wrote film historian David Robinson, “No one – not even Griffith or Huston and certainly not Fleming (Gone With the Wind) – caught the visual aspect of the Civil War as Keaton did.”

In 1927, the American silent film “The General”, now known as one of the greatest films ever made, was released in theaters.

But the film starring silent film star Buster Keaton was not a big success in the box office, in fact it was a box office disaster and received negative critic reviews.  But only until later would the film be seen as the ultimate classic film making it into the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time (at #18) and was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 1989, the first year of the registry.

The film revolves around an engineer named Johnnie Gray (played by Buster Keaton) who is in love with Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack).  The Civil War between the Union and the Confederates is hitting close to home and immediately, Annabelle’s father and brother enlist to join the Confederate Army.  Annabelle expects the same from Johnnie, which he does.

Unfortunately, Johnnie is not allowed to join because of his importance as an engineer and he must stay in town.  Unfortunately, Annabelle tells him that she will not speak with him until he dons a soldier’s uniform.  Her father looks as Johnnie as a man who is running away and deems him a coward.

Meanwhile, the Union army has spies who are intent of stealing the train known as “The General” and thwart the Confederate Army by destroying the bridges and stopping supplies from getting to them.  Eventually, the Union succeeds in stealing the The General but inside one of the box cars is Marion who was retrieving some items but now has been captured by the soldiers.

As for Johnnie, he sees the train being stolen and tells the other men in town about what took place but he is the only person willing to chase after it and eventually using another locomotive, The Texas to go after it.

Will Johnnie be able to retrieve The General and thwart the Union but most importantly, save his his girlfriend Annabelle?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“The General” is presented in full-frame (1:33:1) and is color tinted.

I just have to say that this is the best version I have ever seen of “The General”.  The film was mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print struck from the original camera negative but having seen this film only on public domain video files which were never complete or had this awful fading in an out and just difficult to watch, this 1927 film looks absolutely incredible.  Is it 100% pristine?  No.  There are white specks and occasional film wearing but for a film this old, this is expected.

If anything, I was just in awe of how incredible this film looks.  The detail is amazing and the clarity, again…fantastic.  As for the colors, the film has a sepia look while the night time shifts to a bluish tint (which I’ve read in silent film books was intentional at that time).  But seriously, this is probably the best we will ever see this film for a long time.

As for the audio, KINO International gives us three optional scores to choose from.  The choice is a symphony based soundtrack composed and conducted by Carl Davis and performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra (featured in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or uncompressed 2.0 Stereo).  Also, included are previous scores used by “The General” in older releases by Robert Israel which was derived from traditional silent film utilizing a piano accompanied by strings and a theatre organ score by Lee Erwin recorded in Carnegie Hall and was used during the ’70s theatrical issue of the film.

All three scores are well-done but during my viewing, I wanted to check out Carl Davis and the Thames Silent Orchestra and hear it in HD.  The music was just crystal clear  but most important is the fact that KINO International has given viewers a choice of musical score.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The General” comes with the following special features in 1080i:

  • Video Tour of the General – (18:05) Historian and locomotive expert Harper Harris explains to the viewer of the actual story of the real people (William Pittenger, who also wrote the book that inspired the film “The General”) involved and how Keaton wanted to use “The General” for his film but veterans were against it.
  • The Buster Express – (5:47) Buster Keaton enjoyed trains and how it was used in his films.  Pretty much a montage of trains used in Keaton films.
  • Tour of Filming Locations – (4:29) John Bengston shows us the locations of where “The General” was filmed and how it looks like today.
  • Home Movie Footage – (1:00) A short featurette from the onlookers who filmed Keaton and the crew on the set of “The General”.
  • Intro by Gloria Swanson – (2:13) Silent film star Gloria Swanson presents “The General” and talks a little about the film.
  • Intro by Orson Welles – (12:21) Orson Welles talks about his friend Buster Keaton and introduces the film for a broadcast of Paul Killiam’s “The Silent Years”.  Orson Welles talks about his memories of the film and Keaton and more.
  • Photo Gallery – Using your remote, you can cycle through publicity stills, posters and photos.

“The General” is such a great pleasure to watch. Watching it today, even comparing to many of the greatest chase scenes of all time, “The General” is the action film of that era that still shocks us today.   I’m quite surprised of how epic and historically accurate this film was.  From hundreds of extras (500 extras from the Oregon National Guard) wearing Union and Confederate uniforms, Buster Keaton doing thrilling but very risky stunts and one of the most expensive action scene used in a silent film of a train falling from a collapsed bridge.

Sure, today we see Jackie Chan and others doing these amazing stunts but back in the 1920’s, to see Keaton doing these stunts and considering the lack of support during that time or the lack of a double used for stunts, the man was seriously risking his life in the making of these films.  But he made it look easy and fun, Keaton…was absolutely fearless.

KINO international has given fans of this film more than they probably expect but we are very grateful.  “The General” has never looked this incredible and for many of us who have only seen worn out versions on VHS or terrible quality video public domain files, this Blu-ray release is just a sight to behold.  To see such detail and clarity for this 1927 film or for a silent action film is incredible.

For those who are building their Blu-ray collection and want quality must-own films, “The General” should be in your collection.  “The General” is a Buster Keaton masterpiece that is indeed one of the greatest films of all time.

The Blu-ray version of “The General” is highly recommended!

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