Buster Keaton wanted to use the real locomotive The General in the movie which was at the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot in Chattanooga, Tennessee (it's in Kennesaw, Georgia now), but was unable to, and had to dress up another 4-4-0 locomotive instead.
Keaton performed many dangerous physical stunts on and around the moving train, including jumping from the engine to a tender to a boxcar, sitting on the cow-catcher of the slow moving train while holding a railroad tie, and running along the roof. One of the most dangerous stunts occurred when Buster sat on one of the coupling rods, which connect the drivers of the locomotive. In the film, the train starts gently and gradually picks up speed as it enters a shed. It is nearly impossible for any engineer to start any train moving this precisely. If he had not accelerated by just the correct amount, the rods might have been moving so fast as to send Buster flying, possibly injuring or killing him. The story goes that it took considerable persuasion on his part to get the engineer to go through with it.
The first try at getting the cannonball to shoot out of the cannon into the cab caused the ball to shoot with too much force. To cause the cannonball to shoot into the cab of the engine correctly, Keaton had to count out the grains of gunpowder with tweezers.
In the scene where Johnnie and Annabelle refill the water reservoir of the train, Marion Mack said in an interview many years later that she had no idea that she was supposed to get drenched. Buster Keaton had not told her what was supposed to happen, so the shock you see is genuine.
In the scenes with the opposing armies marching, Keaton had the extras (which included 500 Oregon National Guardsmen) wear the uniforms of the Confederacy and march in one direction past the camera, then he had them change uniforms to the Union blue and had them march past the camera in the other direction.
The film's hard-edged look was inspired by the battlefield photographs of Mathew Brady, which captured the carnage of the Civil War in shocking detail.
Many notables have cameos in this film. Glen Cavender, who played the leader of the hijackers, had been a hero in the Spanish-American War and a winner of the French Legion of Honor. Also, Frederick Vroom had appeared earlier in Keaton's The Navigator as the girl's father whose ship is hijacked. Keaton's former director of photography, Elgin Lessley, has a cameo as the Union general who gives the command to cross the burning bridge. Joe Keaton, Busterís father who played parts in several of his other movies, also plays a Union general. Producer Louis Lewyn (who was also Marion Mack's husband) has a bit part as a soldier.
An earlier version of the film featured some scenes with Snitz Edwards, who had previously served as a memorable "sidekick" for Buster in Seven Chances and Battling Butler. These scenes were eventually deleted.
Since United Artists was initially leery of offending viewers for whom the Civil War was still a fresh and wounding memory, The General opened first in two theaters in Tokyo, Japan, under the title Keaton, Shogun.
A review of the movie in the British publication The Bioscope (Jan. 1927) stated that "Keaton has provided himself with a better acting part than he has since Grandma's Boy," which was actually a Harold Lloyd film.
Filming dates: June 8 to Sept. 18, 1926
* Oregon Ė Cottage Grove; Eugene; McKenzie River; Row River
* California Ė Santa Monica
Filming budget: $750,000 (approx. $9.2 million in 2010 dollars)
Domestic box-office gross: $474,264 ($5.8 million in 2010 dollars)
Revealing Mistake: When Johnnie is running through the woods to escape the Union soldiers, his hat drops from the tree before his head hits the hat to dislodge it.
Factual Error: The cowcatchers on Western & Atlantic RR trains had horizontal bars, rather than the vertical ones seen on all three trains in the film.
- When The General is first stolen, Johnnie is washing his hands. When he sees the train pulling away, he walks away from the sink with his hands covered in soap, but in the following reverse shot where he tells the passengers what has happened, his hands are clean.
- When Johnnie is chopping wood on the train, the piece of wood changes size between the different shots.
- Johnnie's and Annabelle's clothes are dry, neat, and clean the morning after camping outside without shelter during the thunderstorm
- When Annabelle Lee is brought inside the Union headquarters by two soldiers, her clothes are soaking wet from the rain clearly visible through a window, but the soldiers' clothes are dry.
- When Johnnie is chasing the General in the Texas, during most of the chase the engine has a sliding hatch in the cab roof, but just before Johnnie abandons the Texas, the roof changes to a smooth roof without a hatch, and slightly different shape, obviously meaning he changed engines.
- Annabelle gets drenched when she and Johnnie stop for water, but as they return to the engine, her dress is dry.
- The enlistment scene takes place in 1861 but the "Southern Cross" flag hanging outside the enlistment office wasn't used until 1862.
- The movie takes place during the Civil War in the 1860s. However the General is equipped with air brakes which weren't invented until 1872 by George Westinghouse.
- The Union infantryman, who was killed by the flying sword blade, was using a Springfield trapdoor rifle which was not made until after the end of the Civil War.
Go to:A Brief Overview of Buster Keaton