One of the great comedies of all time and the key work of Buster Keaton's career.

Western & Atlantic Railroad train engineer Johnnie Gray is in Marietta, Georgia, to see one of the two loves of his life, his fiancée Annabelle Lee — the other being his locomotive, The General—when the American Civil War breaks out. He hurries to be first in line to enlist in the Confederate Army but is rejected because he is too valuable in his present job, but is not told that reason. On leaving, he runs into Annabelle's father and brother, who beckon him to join them in line, but he walks away, giving them the impression that he does not want to enlist. Annabelle informs Johnnie that she will not speak to him again until he is in uniform.

It was inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase, a true story of an event during the American Civil War. At the time of its initial release, The General, an action-adventure-comedy made toward the end of the silent era, was not well received by critics and audiences, resulting in mediocre box office returns (about half a million dollars domestically, and approximately one million worldwide). Because of its then-huge budget ($750,000 supplied by Metro chief Joseph Schenck) and failure to turn a significant profit, Keaton lost his independence as a filmmaker and was forced into a restrictive deal with MGM. In 1954 the film entered the United States public domain because its claimant did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.

The General has since been reevaluated and is now often ranked among the greatest American films ever made. In 1989, it was selected by the Library of Congress to be included in the first class of films for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

In the decennial Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films ever made, international critics ranked it #8 in 1972 and #10 in 1982. It ranked #34 in 2012. In 2002 critic Roger Ebert listed it on his top 10 and his list of The Great Movies.

The General has since been reevaluated and is now often ranked among the greatest American films ever made. 

The Soundtrack

Caspervek's Soundtrack for "The General" presents an interesting combination of the usual style of slapstick comedies (use of classical jazz and swing) with the presence of melodies of American folk music and sounds that recalls American Civil War songs. 


  • Original title

    The General

  • Director

    Clyde Bruckman
    Buster Keaton

  • Writer

    Al Boasberg
    Buster Keaton

  • Runtime

    75 min.

  • Year


  • Country


  • Company

    United Artists

  • Genre

    Comedy. Historical fiction


Buster Keaton

Marion Mack

Glen Cavender

Frederick Vroom

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