20 January 2012

The General is set during the start of the American Civil War in 1861 and is about a train engineer called Johnnie Gray (played by Keaton) who has two loves in his live, his fiancée Annabelle and his train, The General. (He actually goes as far as giving Annabelle a very serious photo of himself with The General… cringe.)

War is breaking out and because what made a man 'a man' during those times was to be on the front line, Johnnie rushes to join the Confederate Army but is rejected as his job as an engineer is deemed too important. Neither Annabelle or her family are too impressed with this and she blocks him out of her life until a year later she finds herself on The General heading North to see her injured Father.

Union spies hijack The General with Annabelle on board and one of the most comical chase scenes of the silent movie era gets underway. Handcars, disconnected carriages and even a boneshaker bicycle are all used on Johnnie's mission to get his two loves back. Like Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, Keaton does many of his own daredevil stunts including running along the roof of a moving train!

The film had a budget of a whopping $750,000 (by 1920s measures!) meaning that Keaton could afford to have 500 extras in scenes and could even collapse a whole bridge into a river. When the film had wrapped, the production company left a train in the river and it became a tourist attraction (until it was sold for scrap in the Second World War). Anyone else picturing a steam train in the Mersey?

The General will be screened this Sunday at 4.30pm. You can book your tickets online, in person at the Box Office, or by calling 0871 902 5737.

The last film in the Silent Film Season will be Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans on Sunday 29 January.