Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s latest cinematic treat this week was “The General” (1926), the classic Buster Keaton silent film in which he plays a Southern train engineer during the Civil War.   When Yankee spies slip into Georgia and steal a train with which they plan to cause mayhem behind the lines in support of a Union advance, Keaton’s patriotic character (actually named Johnnie Gray), although previously rejected by the Confederate Army (and his girl) because of the importance of his civilian work, nonetheless single-handedly takes off in pursuit with another locomotive and thwarts the Yankee plot.  Of course, I’m probably violating all sorts of Socialist Juicebox Wanker taboos just watching a film that has a sympathetic Southerner as its hero, much less commenting on it.

Without looking it up because I’m being lazy and because I couldn’t link it anyway due to WordPress’s continued cussedness, I’ve an idea that this film is loosely based on an actual Great Locomotive Chase that occurred during the War, although I can’t now recall which side did the original stealing, who chased whom, or what the eventual outcome was.  For some reason, I believe the locomotive involved in that one was called the “Texas”. UPDATE:  The lovely and talented Diane looked it up.  So did I.  She is correct that the stolen locomotive was, in fact, called The “General”, and that the Yankees were the thiefs.  The “Texas” was one of the locomotives the Confederates used in the chase.  Indeed, she was on the southbound tracks and the Rebs ran her backwards in pursuit.  Somewhere or other, Ol’ Robbo still has an old National Geographic book on the War that includes a painting of this backward pursuit.  That’s what was lurking in the recesses of my braims when I wrote this paragraph.

Anyhoo, I haven’t seen this film since I was about thirteen, when the Mothe took me to see it at the old Olmos Theatre in San Antonio as part of a “classics” series that also featured such greats as the Marx Brothers, the “Pink Panther” movies, Hitchcock, and others.  Of course here, Keaton is the film, and the pleasure comes in watching the combination of his deadpan face and the facility with which he did all his own stunts. (His very last film, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (1966), is a huge favorite of Ol’ Robbo’s, in no small part because his character of Erronius – “a befuddled old man” – is really a loving tribute to Keaton’s skills.)

Alas, the version of “The General” owned by Netflix is seriously marred by the soundtrack that accompanies it, which is nothing more than a series of standard orchestral pieces by such composers as Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Glazunov strung together one after another and having absolutely no relationship whatsoever to what is happening on the screen.  I may as well have been listening to the damned radio.  After a while, I hit the mute button out of pure, distracted frustration, but of course that creates its own problems:  Not only is a completely silent film  jarring in and of itself, one is also left listening to all those ambient background noises that one started watching the film to escape in the first place:  skirmishing cats; the dog barking at her own shadow; Youngest Gel on the phone in her room two floors above, yacking with her friends at the top of her very considerable voice.  Grrr…..

The film’s mismatched soundtrack also reminded me of an experience I had with an airing of “Nosferatu” on PBS a few years ago.  Friends of the decanter of a certain age may remember an electronics toy of some years back.  It consisted of a battery-powered board on which were embedded various circuits, transistors, diodes, and other do-hickeys.  With the provided wires, you linked them up by various schematic diagrams in the book accompanying the toy, thereby creating a variety of audio and visual devices.  Well, this “Nosferatu” was accompanied by a score which sounded like nothing so much as a kid messing about with this toy – a random series of pings, grunts, clicks, and wah-wahs that again had absolutely nothing to do with the picture. Infuriating.

(By the bye, Eldest watched “Nosferatu” for the first time recently as part of an English class she’s taking on literary monsters.  She simply couldn’t believe it when I told her that there were numerous instances, among its original audiences, of viewers fainting and having hysterics because they were so frightened.)

Anyway, there you are.  Next time, I might just hit the mute button again, steal Middle Gel’s electronic keyboard, and accompany the damned thing myself.

And speaking of silent, next up on Robbo’s movie list is the 1925 version of “Ben Hur”, which I’ve never seen before.  The blurb on the Netflix envelope says that it is accompanied by a score from Hollywood composer Carl Davis, so hopefully this time there will be a little more sympathy between audio and visual.  I’ll let you know.