Johnnie Gray, a train engineer, has two loves in his life: his sweetheart, Annabelle Lee, and his locomotive, The General.
When the Civil War
breaks out, Johnnie attempts to enlist into the Confederate Army, but is refused because he is more valuable as an engineer. Johnnie isn't told this, so Annabelle and her family believe him to be a coward
. Annabelle refuses to talk to Johnnie again until he is in uniform. When Johnnie's train is stolen by Union soldiers whilst the passengers are having dinner (except for Annabelle, who had reboarded on the train), Johnnie jumps into another engine and chases the enemy. His goal is to get both his girl and his train back.Hilarity Ensues
. This 1926 silent film is less of an outright comedy than many of Buster Keaton
's other works and has several dramatic elements. At the time it was considered a flop, but ended up being Vindicated by History
and is now considered one of the best silent films ever made.
Based off an actual historical event
This film provides examples of:
- Accidental Hero
- The American Civil War
- Bad Ass: Johnnie Gray is just an engineer, but manages to do more damage to the Union than the Confederate forces do by the end of the film.
- Bears Are Bad News: At one point, Johnnie and Annabelle are lost in the middle of the night in a forest they don't know while a storm rages. And then they bump into a bear.
- Behind the Black: An unusual example. Johnnie remains totally oblivious to things going on just behind his back—his train pulling away without him, an entire Confederate regiment retreating. Why can't he hear these presumably noisy events? Presumably because it's a silent movie, and the audience can't hear them either.
- BFG: The Texas is pulling a flatcar carrying a mortar similar to this type◊.
- Bound and Gagged: The Union spies tie Annabelle up and gag her when they steal the train and find her in the baggage car.
- Butt Monkey: Another engine, called the Columbia, appears as a USMRR train during the second chase. Not only does it frequently rear-end the Texas, but the rear of its train gets derailed by cannon fire. Also, the Union generals who ride on its flatcar get drenched from the water tower and jolted around as the train stops and starts.
- California Doubling: Oregon, actually, standing in for Georgia and Tennessee.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: After getting his girl back - no, we're not going to put that in a spoiler tag - and desperately trying to get up enough steam to get away from the pursuing Union forces, Johnnie asks said girl to hand him wood for the firebox while he drives the locomotive. She then sorts through all the wood that she can reach, throwing away a couple of pieces (apparently because they have knots in them) and finally hands him a piece about the size of a paperback book. While, we must repeat, they are trying to outrun their enemies at all costs. Johnnie's reaction is probably the funniest gag in the whole movie.
- Cool Train: The General and the Texas.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Johnnie is not the most masculine guy, rather awkward socially and even a bit clumsy but when it comes to trains and sabotage he is far more knowledgeable, athletic and intelligent than anyone gives him credit for. Alone he manages to convince the enemy he is a One-Man Army and on the return chase his understanding of the turnstiles manages to completely stop the enemy in their tracks to give him enough time to warn the Confederate Army.
- The Ditz: Annabelle is not very bright.
- Exact Eavesdropping: Johnny ends up hiding under a table the Union generals sit around while discussing the coming campaign, and not only hears their plans but sees Annabelle through a convenient hole in the tablecloth.
- Handcar Pursuit: One way that Johnny pursues the train.
- Hand Gagging: Annabelle is being silenced this way twice, first by the leader of the Union squad and later by Johnnie when he rescues her from the enemy's headquarters.
- Hero Stole My Bike: At one point Keaton steals a penny-farthing bicycle to chase after his stolen train, but isn't able to ride it very far before falling over.
- Heroic BSOD: The Union general after the bridge collapses.
- The Load: Zig-zagged with Annabelle, where she makes some stupid mistakes that make Johnnie's job more difficult (reversing the train when Johnnie was about to catch up, as well as tossing out wood fuel because of a knot) but she is trying to be helpful and on a few occasions manages to even surprise him with her ideas working (the trip line between two trees that Johnnie mocked managed to entangle the cranks of the enemy train and force them to clear it out).
- Meaningful Name: "Johnnie Gray" is a combination of nicknames for Confederate soldiers — Johnny Reb and Grayback.
- Poor Communication Kills: Why doesn't anyone tell Johnnie that he is performing vital wartime work as a railroad engineer?
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Johnnie and Annabelle's first kiss came after he nearly strangled her for making his job harder.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: How Johnnie Gray kills the Union sniper at the end. Granted, he did it completely by accident...
- Trash the Set: Yes, they did burn down the bridge as the Texas was crossing it. The wreckage sat there until the Second World War.