Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Another Look At The General

That's not a special effect, that's not a model, that's not computer-generated trickery. That's Buster Keaton dropping a real locomotive into the middle of a very real river.

I don't think I need to point out that he got this shot in one take ...


BottleFiend said...

I love trains sooooo much, great pics by the way


Mister Parker said...

Welcome, BottleFiend!

I did a little research on the locomotives in "The General." Since the movie is based on a real-life event that occurred in 1862, Buster Keaton originally wanted to use the actual "General," a 4-4-0 locomotive, known as an American, which was located at the L&N depot in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was unable to obtain permission, however, when the local railroad officials discovered he wanted to make a comedy -- which they felt would dishonor the role "The General" played during the Civil War.

Keaton instead found a pair of 4-4-0's belonging to a small logging outfit, the Oregon, Pacific & Eastern Railroad, and he ended up filming the movie near Cottage Grove, Oregon. He then redressed the two locomotives to look like "The General" and "The Texas," the locomotives involved in the real-life chase.

I've read that the crash shown in the photo was the single most expensive shot in the history of silent movies. That locomotive was eventually pulled out of the river during the Second World War and cut up for scrap. The surviving locomotive continued to haul lumber until the end of its days.

By the way, I'm a train man myself -- Katie-Bar-The-Door and I frequently visit the B&O museums in Baltimore and Ellicott City ...