the general

The stoic, statue-like poise of Buster Keaton amid the frenzy of his comedies made them all the funnier. He never indicated the humor of a scene but coexisted with it, reacting to the wildest circumstances with a tiny “uh-oh” widening of the eyes. In his 1926 silent masterpiece, the action/adventure comedy “The General” (⋆⋆⋆⋆), he plays Johnnie Gray, a Southern train engineer skirmishing his way through the Civil War by railroad. With exhilarating athleticism and comic timing of Swiss watch precision, Keaton performs seemingly improvised, brilliantly developed physical stunts. All the while he’s as impassive as if he stepped out of a daguerreotype. No coincidence there: The film deliberately evoked the era by copying the look of Matthew Brady’s wartime photographs. The stunts, which grow increasingly elaborate and life-threatening as the film rolls along, climax with a colossal bridge collapse. That’s only the setup, mind you. The payoff is the expression of chagrin we get from the boob who declared it safe for crossing. An exquisite, timelessly entertaining classic. (Outdoor screening at 8:45 p.m. Sat., Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery, 2945 Cedar Av. S., Minneapolis. Admission: $8 in advance at or $10 at the event.)

Colin Covert