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Silent Era Films on Home Video
Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.
The General
(1926)
 

The General (1926) was the basis of the reestablishment of Buster Keaton’s reputation in the late 1940s, when the world rediscovered his brilliant comedic talents. Over the years, The General has come to be considered one of Buster’s crowning artistic moments, despite the fact that the film was greeted by a number of ho-hum reviews in 1926.

Full of comedic invention and carried by more plot than usual for a Keaton film, The General remains a pleasing and memorable cinematic experience for the hoards of Buster’s fans.

Buster is a railroad engineer in the American South when Civil War is declared. To impress his sweetheart, he attempts to enlist in the Confederate Army, but is disallowed because he is far more valuable as a railroad engineer. Not knowing this, Buster makes several attempts to join incognito before resigning himself to failure and shame.

Soon, however, Buster is drawn accidentally into the Union’s plans of infiltration and sabotage. When spies steal Buster’s train, with his girl on it, he snaps into action.

For years now, The General has remained in the Top 10 of the Silent Era website’s Top 100 Silent Era Films list, as voted upon by our readers, often claiming the number one spot. For the viewer who is just discovering silent films, The General is one of the first films that should be seen as it features many memorable moments, including several inventive sight gags — some involving the narrow-gauge steam locomotive, The General. — Carl Bennett

2009 Kino International
Blu-ray Disc edition

The General (1926), color-toned black & white, 78 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K669, UPC 7-38329-06692-5.
Pillarboxed 16:9 MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, one single-sided Blu-ray Disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard BD keepcase, $34.95.
BD release date: 10 November 2009.
Country of origin: USA
This Blu-ray Disc edition features a new high-definition video transfer from a 35mm print struck from the original nitrate camera negative. The transfer was remastered specifically for Blu-ray Disc release, even though a previous HD transfer was made by Kino for their 2008 remastered DVD edition. There is still a light amount of dust and speckling, and some frame jitters, but not enough of any of it to be a distraction.

The film is accompanied by three optional music scores — the Carl Davis score from Photoplay Productions, performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra (5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound), that was previously available on laserdisc and VHS videotape in the USA, a score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel (previously available on Kino’s 1999 DVD, noted below), and a pipe organ score performed by Lee Erwin, recorded at Carnegie Hall.

The supplemental section includes a video tour of the authentic General locomotive (16:9 anamorphic, 18 minutes), a tour by John Bengtson of General filming locations in northwest Oregon (4 minutes), home movie footage (1 minute), filmed introductions by Gloria Swanson (from the Silents Please television series, 2 minutes) and Orson Welles (from The Silent Years series, 12 minutes), a montage of Keaton locomotive and rail car gags (6 minutes), and a photo gallery (82 images).

This edition is highly recommended to those who have a Blu-ray Disc player.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2008 Kino International DVD edition

The General (1926), color-toned black & white, 78 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K637, UPC 7-38329-06372-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, two single-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 16 chapter stops, two-disc standard DVD keepcase in cardboard slipcover, $29.99.
DVD release date: 11 November 2008.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 9 / additional content: 7 / overall: 9.

This two-disc set features a new high-definition video transfer from a 35mm print struck from the original nitrate camera negative. Kino notes that the new transfer stabilizes frame jitters, and beginning nitrate composition has been digitally removed and the picture contrast balanced. The results are gorgeous, with striking picture details that have a great feeling of depth. There is still a light amount of dust and speckling, and some frame jitters, but not enough of any of it to be a distraction.

The film is accompanied by three optional music scores — the Carl Davis score from Photoplay Productions, performed by the Thames Silents Orchestra (5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound), that was previously available on laserdisc and VHS videotape in the USA, a score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel (previously available on Kino’s 1999 DVD, noted below), and a pipe organ score performed by Lee Erwin, recorded at Carnegie Hall.

The supplemental section includes a video tour of the authentic General locomotive (16:9 anamorphic, 18 minutes), a tour by John Bengtson of General filming locations in northwest Oregon (4 minutes), home movie footage (1 minute), filmed introductions by Gloria Swanson (from the Silents Please television series, 2 minutes) and Orson Welles (from The Silent Years series, 12 minutes), a montage of Keaton locomotive and rail car gags (6 minutes), and a photo gallery (82 images).

This edition is highly recommended to those who have not made the jump to Blu-ray Disc.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2006 Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
DVD edition

The General (1926), color-toned black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra,
no catalog number, UPC 8-04879-04009-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $25.00.
DVD release date: 2006.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 6 / overall: 8.

This 2006 edition from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra has been transferred from very-good to excellent 35mm print materials, and appears to utilize the same full-frame video transfer from other David Shepard editions noted below. While print speckling is higher than in the 1999 Kino edition, the Mont Alto disc benefits from its newer DVD mastering, with a sharper picture that looks impressive on high-definition monitors.

The presentation features an excellent, highly entertaining music score compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the five-piece orchestra. In a novel twist, the film is presented with optional subtitles identifying the accompanying music compositions, which we hail as a great pioneering move in the presentation of silent films on home video. The musically uneducated can now identify which contemporary music pieces have been adapted for the accompaniment, and begin to understand the use of musical themes of underscore the progression of the plot and action and to suggest a mood to associate with a character’s actions and personality. A great idea.

The disc’s supplemental material includes audio commentary on the film and the music score by Howie Movshovitz and Rodney Sauer (which includes a few surprising insights), a video essay by Rodney Sauer on silent film music scores in general and the 1926 music cue sheet compiled for The General by James C. Bradford in particular, a video trailer for the Mont Alto edition, and an option to play the film with an intermission title card after Buster’s rescue of Annabelle — a great pee-break option for those in-home showings to groups of friends.

The combination of the sharp video transfer coupled with an excellent music score makes this Mont Alto edition a recommended option to the remastered Kino edition noted above.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD edition is available directly from the MONT ALTO MOTION PICTURE ORCHESTRA.
1999 Kino on Video DVD edition

The General (1926), color-toned black & white and black & white, 75 minutes, not rated,
with The Playhouse (1921), black & white, 23 minutes, not rated, and Cops (1922), black & white, 18 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K131DVD, UPC 7-38329-01312-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, snapper DVD case (reissued in standard DVD keepcase [retail], and in slimline DVD keepcase [boxset]), $29.99 (reduced to $24.95).
DVD release date: 26 October 1999.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

This older Kino edition 0f The General reveals a very-good to excellent 35mm source print utilized for the slightly-windowboxed video transfer, as produced by David Shepard. The print is compromised by some blotches in the first reel, frame jitters, some speckling, dust and light print wear. The older video transfer plays reasonably well on newer HD monitors, but we suspect that Kino’s remastered edition (noted above) looks even better.

The film is accompanied by an excellent small orchestra music score composed and arranged by Robert Israel.

The DVD also includes The Playhouse (1921) and Cops (1922). Based on our familiarity with the films themselves we recommend them, as they are among the funniest Buster Keaton produced.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
2003 Image Entertainment DVD edition

The General (1926), color-toned black & white, 76 minutes, not rated,
with Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), black & white, 70 minutes, not rated.

Image Entertainment, ID0559DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-05592-4.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided?, dual-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $24.99.
DVD release date: 21 October 2003.
Country of origin: USA
This 2003 edition produced by David Shepard may feature the same high-quality video transfers as those he provided for the 1999 Kino edition.

The edition features new musical accompaniment by The Alloy Orchestra.

If you own a copy of this edition and would be willing loan it to Silent Era for review, please contact us.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2001 Eureka Entertainment DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, 120 minutes, Classification U,
with Cops (1922), black & white, 18 minutes, Classification U, and The Balloonatic (1923), black & white, 27 minutes, Classification U.

Eureka Entertainment,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
DVD release date: 19 February 2001.
Country of origin: England
This PAL edition has been mastered from 35mm print materials.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2002 Navarre Corporation DVD edition

Triple Feature Comedy Classics, Volume 2 (1922-1926),
black & white, 147 minutes totak, not rated,
including The General (1926), black & white, 107 minutes, not rated.

Navarre Corporation, 1629, UPC 7-41027-16299-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 2.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.98.
DVD release date: 12 March 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 7 / overall: 5.

Now touted as Buster Keaton’s best feature film, The General has been well represented on home video by the DVD edition from Kino International. On this disc, however, the grayed-out 16mm reduction print used for the video transfer is watchable but hardly comes close to the quality of image detail and graytone range that exists in 35mm prints from the Raymond Rohauer collection (which originate from nitrate prints that were held over the years by Keaton himself). The silent-speed transfer is generously framed, with the intertitles clearly seen on most television monitors.

The film is accompanied by a series of canned orchestral recordings, which have little in mood to do with the story it scores. I don’t know that Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” is appropriate accompaniment for a Keaton comedy, but Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” does OK in a chase sequence.

The Paleface (1922) and The Blacksmith (1922), two very good Keaton shorts, are the standouts on this disc, which appear to be presented from video transfers originally prepared by David Shepard for home video release by Kino International. Both films have utilized 35mm print materials for the transfers, which feature a broad range of graytones and very good image detail. However, experienced eyes will detect a slightly lower-quality appearance to these shorts on this Navarre disc over the Kino editions, due to the higher MPEG compression of the video information. Both films are accompanied by canned orchestral music scores.

If viewers are more budget than quality conscious, this disc will be a good buy. However, we recommend the Kino DVD editions of these films over this disc from Navarre.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 Delta Entertainment DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, 107 minutes, not rated.

Delta Entertainment, 82 344, UPC 0-18111-23449-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 3 Mbps average video bit rate, 1536 kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 11 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.99.
DVD release date: 24 February 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 5.

This budget edition is OK in the grand line-up inexpensive discs. It has been mastered from the same video transfer (right down to the music) as the Navarre edition, prepared from a 16mm reduction print of acceptable grayscale range, although the image detail is a little soft as is characteristic of 16mm prints. There is the usual amount of dust, speckling, light scratches (some of which were present in the source print that this print was copied from), and some mild frame jitters in this silent-speed video transfer.

Ultimately, there is enough image detail to keep this edition watchable for the uninitiated, but quality-minded collectors will still want the editions from Kino and Image noted above.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 GoodTimes Entertainment
DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, 107 minutes, not rated,
with College (1927), black & white, 66 minutes, not rated, and The Milky Way (1936), black & white, 88 minutes, not rated.

GoodTimes Entertainment, 05-81684, UPC 0-18713-81684-9.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one dual-sided, single-layered and dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.99.
DVD release date: 30 March 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

Like most budget editions of silent films, this disc has been mastered at an appropriate speed from a 16mm reduction print, which is soft of focus, but has a reasonable grayscale range that is at times a little contrasty. The video master is identical (right down to the music) to the budget Navarre and Delta editions noted above, however this edition is the best of the three due to a higher video bit rate that produces a slightly smoother final image. Of the three editions prepared from this transfer, we recommend this disc.

This multifilm edition also features the Harold Lloyd sound comedy The Milky Way (1936), mastered from a 16mm print, which is at least watchable. For our comments on this edition of College (1927), see our College on home video page.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2003 Alpha Video DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, 105 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4128D, UPC 0-89218-41289-8.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 18 March 2003.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 5.

Once again it appears that the same video transfer as budget GoodTimes, Navarre and Delta editions noted above has been used to master this budget edition from Alpha Video. As in those discs, this edition has been prepared from a slightly grayed-out but reasonably-detailed 16mm reduction print, with the usual shortcomings. The resulting picture, after having been compressed for DVD, is a little grainier than the above editions. Being the same video master, this edition is also accompanied by the same compilation music score of preexisting orchestral recordings in mono sound.

Honestly, while this edition is watchable, we still recommend the Kino edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2002 unknown company DVD edition

Famous Comedy Legends, Volume 1 (1926-?), black & white, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The General (1926), black & white, 76 minutes, not rated.

Unknown home video company,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, three single-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, three-disc DVD keepcase?, $24.99.
DVD release date: 1 July 2002.
Country of origin: unknown
We have not seen this DVD set. We are suspicious of the quality of this three-disc set of short and feature-length films, especially with the unusually short time for The General.

The majority of the titles have previously been offered by other budget disc producers and may be of similar low-quality. While the temptation is to get three discs for a low price, the possibility exists that the quality of prints used for the video transfers are commensurately low.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2001 Catcom Entertainment DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, 78 minutes, not rated,
with College (1927), black & white, 60 minutes, not rated.

Catcom Entertainment, CAT0119-6, UPC 7-41914-01196-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, unknown list price.
DVD release date: 2001.
Country of origin: USA
We have not seen this DVD. Like other budget editions, this Catcom edition is likely to feature a video transfer from a 16mm reduction print.

Also included in the collection are two Betty Boop golden era sound cartoons.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Brentwood Home Video DVD edition

Buster Keaton: The Great Stone Face of Comedy (1921-1927)
black & white, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The General (1926), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Brentwood Home Video, unknown catalog number, UPC 7-87364-54939-9.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, two single-sided?, dual-layered? DVD discs, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, three-disc DVD keepcase, $9.98.
DVD release date: 11 January 2005.
Country of origin: USA
Yet another budget repackaging of public-domain material, no doubt mastered from less-than-perfect materials.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
200? Reel Classic DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, ? minutes, not rated,
with Sundown, Ltd. (1924), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Reel Classic DVD, no catalog number, no UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $20.00.
DVD release date: 200?
Country of origin: USA
This DVD-R edition has been mastered from a 16mm reduction print prepared by Griggs Moviedrome.

The edition is accompanied by a music score performed by Stuart Oderman.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from REEL CLASSIC DVD.
200? unknown South Korean DVD edition

The General (1926), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Unknown South Korean company,
unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided?, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English? language intertitles, Korean? language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: unknown.
Country of origin: South Korean
This South Korean edition showed up for sale on eBay in 2005. The cover photo is from Spite Marriage (1929). Doh!
Other silent era BUSTER KEATON films available on home video.

Other RAILROAD FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Buster Keaton filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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