Public Domain Theater: Buster Keaton’s The General (& “All This and Rabbit Stew”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

This week, we have a picture from one of the legends of the silent film era, and what many consider to be his greatest work: Buster Keaton’s The General!

Loosely inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase, a real event from the American Civil War, it’s one of the earliest examples of the action/comedy, mixing signature Buster Keaton slapstick with a rousing adventure story. It’s a brilliantly made film, and a powerhouse of entertainment.

Too bad it wants you to root for the Confederacy.

Yeah . . . this was made back when the popular view of the South during the Civil War was that they were scrappy, romantic underdogs, and the whole slavery thing was treated as sort of beside the point. But if you can look past that tiny, itsy-bitsy, glorification of a tyrannical regime, this movie’s a hell of a good time!

Keeping to the theme of “brilliant but problematic”, we also have a Bugs Bunny cartoon, directed by Tex Avery in his signature madcap style. This cartoon has rarely been seen since it left theaters, though, because here the hunter that Bugs thwarts and heckles isn’t good ol’ Elmer Fudd. No, it’s a black guy. A black guy as drawn by white animators from the 1940’s. You can probably guess the rest.

So, a somewhat more uncomfortable presentation of Public Domain Theater than usual! We’ll try to have something more wholesome for you next time around.

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation: