Monday, April 11, 2011

Civil War comedy

If Hollywood can make comedies about World War II like Operation Petticoat, then there's no reason why they can't make comedies about, say, the Civil War. In fact, as part of TCM's look at the 150th anniversary of the start of the war, they'll be showing several comedies on Wednesday evening. Tonight's look at the Civil War sees a number of silent movies. However, these silent films include a comedy, that being Buster Keaton's classic The General, overnight at 1:00 AM ET.

Keaton plays a little man in the old South. When the Civil War begins, he wants to enlist just as any other patriotic Southerner would. However, he's deemed unfit, and besides, he's working as an engineer. That's just as important a job as actually fighting in the army. In fact, we get to see its importance when invading Union troops try to capture Keaton's locomotive, take it north to Union territory, and destroy the railroad tracks along the way. Keaton is the only one who can stop the Northerners, albeit with a little help from his would-be girlfriend (Marion Mack).

The General is a fairly simple story, but one that works extremely well thanks to Keaton's typically imaginative and spectacular sight gags. In the case of The General, that meant getting a vintage locomotive and finding a narrow-gauge track in Oregon, and literally destroying things along the way. As with Steamboat Bill, Jr., these are the sort of things that had to be done in one take, lest the actors get seriously injured. If you haven't seen The General before, shame on you! Watch it now, or since it's coming on in the middle of the night, record it. Or get one of the many DVD releases.

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