The General (1927) Movie Poster Image

The General (1927)



Silent masterpiece is enter-train-ment for all ages.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1927
  • Running Time: 77 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

A publicly rejected but valiant hero does his best and succeeds despite overwhelming odds and the fact that everyone else (including his girlfriend) believe him to be a coward.

Positive role models

Johnnie is a stalwart type despite his penchant for accidents. Johnnie's sweetheart Annabelle turns out to be just as clumsy and even more clueless, but this also enables her to commit some effective acts of sabotage againset the Union spies. Though the film is apolitical, some viewers may object to the slave-owning Confederate South as the "good guys," even though this was the official, conciliatory outlook of Hollywood pictures (and, to some extent, most of American art, media, politics, and literature) for generations.

Violence & scariness

Wartime cannon-fire, plus train and vehicle crashes. A few soldiers shot dead (no blood); others knocked unconscious. One accidental gag death via sword.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this great silent-comedy epic shows the Civil War from a Southern perspective and doesn't condemn (or even touch upon) issues of slavery or secession; it's just not an issue. There is slapstick violence -- never bloody or extreme -- involving cannon fire and explosions and some soldiers shot dead by a sniper (who gets accidentally stabbed dead). As with virtually all Hollywood silent cinema, some of the story requires reading intertitles. Video versions of this movie (including online downloads) vary in picture quality and enthusiasm of the soundtrack music; some DVDs include other silent short subjects as "extras," which might contain questionable elements (black-face minstrel jokes, for example). A recent movie called The General also exists -- but it's a brutal UK mob drama, utterly unrelated to this one, and rated R.

What's the story?

In a comical takeoff inspired (loosely) by a well-known, true story of the Civil War, Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is a young locomotive engineer in the South at the outbreak of hostilities, devoted to his sweetheart Annabelle (Marian Mack) and an engine nicknamed "the General." Johnnie tries repeatedly to join the Confederate Army to fight but is turned down unfairly -- which makes him an outcast with Annabelle and her family. A year later, though, Union spies dressed as Confederates steal the General (kidnapping Annabelle as well), intending to tear up strategically important tracks while supplying a Northern invasion. Johnnie chases after them on the rails and, with cleverness and some lucky accidents, wreaks havoc on the frustrated Yankee enemy.

Is it any good?


This thoroughly entertaining classic is ranked among film historians as one of the greatest comedies ever -- perhaps one of the best films ever made, simple as that. Yet it was not a tremendous success when first released, and in some territories in the American South there were protests that Buster Keaton had dared to make a mockery of something so solemn and sacred as the Civil War -- never mind that the film is nothing but respectful about the Confederacy and the resolve of Rebel troops (this was pretty much the standard attitude from Hollywood, with movie vehicles starring Shirley Temple, the Little Rascals and, of course, Gone With the Wind being most generous towards the South).

After the romanticized opening, the film becomes a delightful thrill-a-minute chase adventure, with the running time of an average kids'-cartoon feature. Keaton's trademark split-second timing and grace under pressure are in standout form as the beleaguered, underdog hero. It's important to remember that this used no miniature models or CGI. When a train wrecks in a particular spectacular gag it's the real thing, and Buster Keaton's crew had only one chance to get it right.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Buster Keaton and his career, as the greatest slapstick comic-genius of silent film -- though fans will argue strenuously that Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd or others deserve that crown. Talk with grandparents about their favorite old-time comedians.

  • Mention that Keaton does all his own stunts, and there were no camera tricks (and no retakes allowed!) in some of the huge-scale gags.

  • If it's hard to get modern kids to take a chance on a nearly century-old silent film like this, tell them none other than Jackie Chan admires Buster Keaton and calls him his role model. How are the two comedians similar?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 5, 1927
DVD/Streaming release date:November 11, 2008
Cast:Buster Keaton
Director:Buster Keaton
Character strengths:Perseverance
Run time:77 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Teen, 16 years old Written bywho3697cares June 20, 2010
It may be the greatest silent comedy ever made.
Adult Written byreubli March 23, 2013

Give you kids a great "silent" experience

Definitely a movie to watch with the kids, who may need to understand some of the backstory (Civil war), plot, and some of the gags. In the first half of the movie, most of the action is on a train with Buster Keaton running over, around and up and down a moving train. The last quarter shows some warfare, but very rudimentary - shooting but no blood, people just falling down). It's still a very funny movie. It's worth going to the Internet Movie Database to review some of the movie trivia ahead of time - there are some fantastic scenes in the movie (train crash, etc) and information on these scenes are included in the IMDB (for instance, in some scenes actors were not warned about events that were planned and their shock on camera is genuine). We watched with a 5, 8, and 11 year old. All three loved the film.
Teen, 15 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 December 23, 2013

hilarious Civil War comedy is thrilling and action-packed

Funny, wild, and full of fun, this early Buster Keaton comedy may be silent, but it is VERY funny. with tons of sight gags and slapstick humor, this film will appeal to anyone. but some of the mild but intense action might be too unsettling for very young kids. People are shot with guns and cannons, beaten with slabs of wood, killed when trains fall into rivers, and stabbed by swords. a scene in a forest involves a bear trap and a sudden lightning strike.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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