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The General Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 7+

Silent masterpiece is enter-train-ment for all ages.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this great silent-comedy epic shows the Civil War from a Southern perspective and doesn't condemn (or even touch upon) issues of slavery or secession; it's just not an issue. There is slapstick violence -- never bloody or extreme -- involving cannon fire and explosions and some soldiers shot dead by a sniper (who gets accidentally stabbed dead). As with virtually all Hollywood silent cinema, some of the story requires reading intertitles. Video versions of this movie (including online downloads) vary in picture quality and enthusiasm of the soundtrack music; some DVDs include other silent short subjects as "extras," which might contain questionable elements (black-face minstrel jokes, for example). A recent movie called The General also exists -- but it's a brutal UK mob drama, utterly unrelated to this one, and rated R.

  • Families can talk about Buster Keaton and his career, as the greatest slapstick comic-genius of silent film -- though fans will argue strenuously that Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd or others deserve that crown. Talk with grandparents about their favorite old-time comedians.
  • Mention that Keaton does all his own stunts, and there were no camera tricks (and no retakes allowed!) in some of the huge-scale gags.
  • If it's hard to get modern kids to take a chance on a nearly century-old silent film like this, tell them none other than Jackie Chan admires Buster Keaton and calls him his role model. How are the two comedians similar?

The good stuff
  • message true5

    Messages: A publicly rejected but valiant hero does his best and succeeds despite overwhelming odds and the fact that everyone else (including his girlfriend) believe him to be a coward.

  • rolemodels true4

    Role models: Johnnie is a stalwart type despite his penchant for accidents. Johnnie's sweetheart Annabelle turns out to be just as clumsy and even more clueless, but this also enables her to commit some effective acts of sabotage againset the Union spies. Though the film is apolitical, some viewers may object to the slave-owning Confederate South as the "good guys," even though this was the official, conciliatory outlook of Hollywood pictures (and, to some extent, most of American art, media, politics, and literature) for generations.

What to watch for
  • violence false1

    Violence: Wartime cannon-fire, plus train and vehicle crashes. A few soldiers shot dead (no blood); others knocked unconscious. One accidental gag death via sword.

  • sex false0

    Sex: Not an issue

  • language false0

    Language: Not an issue

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false0

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Not an issue