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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

When Buster's Classic Was New

1927 Broadway Sees The General

Surely a better researcher than me has dug up the following, but in case they haven't, here goes. Looking into The Red Mill this week also revealed The General on Broadway first-run. The Capital, normally a Metro flagship, was host. We know the Keaton masterpiece got chilly reception when new. " ... Good, but no amusing" amid "repetitious incident" were stingers applied, worst complaint that The General was "more melodramatic than amusing," which admittedly, some would say today. Fact is, I regard The General as more action adventure than comedy, plenty OK because chances are Keaton had that very intent (this more/less repeat of idea expressed with regard Our Hospitality a few weeks back). The Capital had recently come off four week smash that was Flesh and The Devil. The General's invite was for but a single frame, during which it "did not hit (the) Broadway public particularly hard" (Variety) with final count of $50,992, a number that might get by in a theatre without 5,450 seats as had the Capital. Not that The Red Mill sold much better the next week, Motion Picture News estimating but $55K for Marion Davies' starrer. So what live accompany did the Capital offer with The General? "An elaborate ballet entitled "Milady's Boudoir" and devised by Chester Hale, is the principal attraction," along with Hosmer's "Northern Rhapsody" and mezzo soprano Celia Turrill, who performed Grieg's "Solveig's Song." Not a sort of context we're used to when watching The General on Blu-Ray or stream-wise, proof again that classics in their day, and first-run habitat, were very different from how we've experienced them since.

More of The General at Greenbriar Archive, Eighty Years Since The General, and Lloyd and Keaton Make The Trades In 1926.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Here are ads from Cuba, except for one of them, they all basically follow exactly the exact patterns from the United Artists ad department.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

THE GENERAL was released through United Artists not Metro which I feel accounts for why it and the follow up (COLLEGE and STEAM BOAT BILL, JR.) did not perform financially as well as THE CAMERAMAN, SPITE MARRIAGE and Keaton's MGM sound pictures.

That said it is ironic that both the public and the critics missed the mark hugely on this. That probably accounts for why Keaton's role was diminished at Metro to just actor.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Anybody have thoughts on the idea that CGI effects might indirectly help replace those gasps with laughs in Keaton's work? Used to seeing the impossible via computer trickery, a modern audience's gut reaction to stuff like THE GENERAL or STEAMBOAT BILL JR. on the big screen might be to take in the brilliant sight gag first, registering the real-life danger later.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

THE GENERAL's reception is a puzzler. Many comedies were successful then and are classics now precisely because they offered more than just gags. Chaplin and Lloyd kept their worlds real enough to encourage sympathy for their characters keep audiences invested in the story.

Keaton himself reported that a boffo gag -- playing traffic cop to fish -- bombed when the audience felt it was interfering with the plot of THE NAVIGATOR. The plot-heavy BATTLING BUTLER -- now viewed as lesser Keaton -- was a huge hit. And note that the craziness of SHERLOCK JUNIOR is firmly locked inside a dream. Keaton understood the need to get the audience emotionally hooked as well as anybody. Better perhaps, because he made it work without smiling.

It's tempting to cite irreverence towards the Civil War as a factor, but Raymond Griffith's successful HANDS UP also had a Civil War setting.

When you look at Keaton hits before and after, you see almost every major element of THE GENERAL: historical setting, melodrama, serious perils, etc. That makes it even harder to point at something as a commercial flaw.

4:35 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

One would hope modern audiences, if they bothered to look at a 90-year-old silent movie at all, would realize that these were not CGI effects and be just amazed at Buster's stunts as well as his gags, but then again, one is not holding one's breath about anything depending on the intelligence of a modern audience.

When I introduce silent comedies to audiences today, I usually remind them that "these performers were risking their lives and limbs for your entertainment, so you damn well better appreciate it", just to knock them into a little sense of reality as to what their seeing. Someone manipulating computer screen impresses me not one whit, which is why I watch so few new movies. I guess the silent clowns and stuntmen spoiled me, if you can't go out and drop the side of a building on your head, or hang off a rope attached to a real exploding water tower, don't waste my time.


5:10 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I explain the difference in photographic style the same way. When it is the actual actor(s) doing the stunts the camera shows them full frame. When it is not the actual actor the illusion of reality is created through dramatic cutting but we never see the full body of the actor lest the illusion be broken. When we do see stunt doubles it is very rare for us not to know doubles are being used.

I never tell them they damn well better appreciate it. I do make sure they know it. That is, from my experience, enough.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Ed Watz said...

Having watched THE GENERAL many times, in MOMA's movie theater and elsewhere, during the 1970s and '80s, I can attest that the audience gasped -- and laughed -- at the daredevil action performed by Keaton. And, after their reaction, the audience often applauded.

What likely impacted THE GENERAL's profit margin had less to do with the lukewarm reviews. THE GENERAL was produced on an epic scale, in line with producer Joe Schenck's projected UA releases for the 1926/27 season. At a negative cost of $415,000, roughly $120,000 over the average of previous Keaton features, THE GENERAL needed to attract bigger audiences than Buster's usual (and reliable) fan base.

5:12 AM  

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