Comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks [at left]: "There's a tiny moment in The General where he captures the bad guy in the engine, and he doesn't do much with the gun. He doesn't threaten or pose; he doesn't overact. He just kind of flicks it like a feather duster twice, like, 'C'mon, this is a gun. I can kill you.' That's enough. The guy knows...[Keaton] left a great legacy for all comedy filmmakers. He's shown us how to do it."
Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson: "The General, from 1927, I think is still one of the great films of all time...[T]reat yourself to one of the most incredible filmmakers at the height of his power."
Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, describing a chance meeting she had with Keaton: "...a complete and delightful surprise for me. I had especially admired him in his film The General."
Film critic James Agee: "Much of his Civil War picture The General is within hailing distance of Mathew Brady...Perhaps because 'dry' comedy is so much more rare and odd than 'dry' wit, there are people who never much cared for Keaton. Those who do cannot care mildly."
Film and theater critic Walter Kerr: "The General, as a film, has the peculiar quality of not dating at all: we quite forget that we are looking at work done in the 1920's and tend to identify the pictures we are watching with the period of the narrative. This is only in part due to the fact that is was a costume film to begin with; many costume films of the 1920's are transparently sham today. It is more nearly due to Keaton's integral relationship with his background."
Film critic Gerald Mast, taking a swipe at major studio M-G-M, which killed Keaton's independent career: "M-G-M was Hollywood's 'toniest' studio. If M-G-M had produced The General, [studio head L.B.] Mayer and [Keaton's producer Irving] Thalberg would have been more interested in the color of the locomotive than in what Keaton did with it. It would probably have been a white train -- with sharp black trim."
Film critic David Thomson: "The General is not only a comedy but a genuinely heroic film. Buster's troubles with trains in that film are based on Keaton's own inquisitive interest in machinery. It was a matter of art that his own handyman's fascination was translated on film into a Quixotic bewilderment with machinery. Thus I would swap all of [Charlie Chaplin's] Modern Times for that glorious moment in The General when Buster's meditation fails to notice the growing motion of the engine's drive shaft on which he is sitting."
Film critic Andrew Sarris: "Time has transformed the surface calm of Keaton's countenance into a subtle beauty. There is a moment in The General when Keaton, exasperated by the stupidity of his Southern Belle sweetheart, makes a mock gesture to choke her, but then kisses her instead. This kiss constitutes one of the most glorious celebrations of heterosexual love in the history of the cinema."
Film critic Roger Ebert, from his "Great Movies" review of The General: "Today I look at Keaton's works more often than any other silent films. They have such a graceful perfection, such a meshing of story, character and episode, that they unfold like music. Although they're filled with gags, you can rarely catch Keaton writing a scene around a gag; instead, the laughs emerge from the situation; he was 'the still, small, suffering center of the hysteria of slapstick,' wrote the critic Karen Jaehne. And in an age when special effects were in their infancy, and a 'stunt' often meant actually doing on the screen what you appeared to be doing, Keaton was ambitious and fearless. He had a house collapse around him. He swung over a waterfall to rescue a woman he loved. He fell from trains. And always he did it in character, playing a solemn and thoughtful man who trusts in his own ingenuity."
Chicago Reader columnist Anthony Puccinelli: "Buster Keaton... will be around forever, because it's unlikely that human beings will ever go out-of-date the way special effects do. Keaton running and clambering onto a moving Civil War train in The General is infinitely more exciting than Christian Slater jumping from a helicopter onto a speeding locomotive in Broken Arrow because what Keaton does is real, and the camera captures and preserves his feats for posterity. In Broken Arrow, we never see Slater (or the stuntman, for that matter) leaping from the helicopter to the train. Instead, there are several cuts, and we must suspend our disbelief and assume that the feat has been accomplished. Which means that it's no feat at all."
Elise Nakhnikian in Slant magazine: "Who knew you could wring this much suspense and laughter from a chase scene involving steam engines? Buster, who co-wrote and co-directed The General, also co-edited it, and I suspect it was he who made sure we always see just what we need to and not a frame more. There's great comic timing in these edits, but there's also a genius' understanding of his medium. That train of Buster's will always run ahead of the curve because he knew how to electrify us just enough to galvanize our imaginations without shorting them out."
Buster Keaton [at right, in his later years], when asked why he believed The General looked more authentic than Gone with the Wind: "Well, they went to a novel for their story. We went to history."
Go to:A Brief Overview of Buster Keaton