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Mighty General with a Mighty Wurlitzer

Just had a unique experience: watching Buster Keaton’s great silent film The General on a big screen, accompanied by live music from a “Mighty Wurlitzer” theater organ.


Never before and probably never again. Not in a little berg like this one, anyhow. I love The General. And Buster Keaton was a gorgeous man with a magnetic screen presence, amazing directing and acting talent, and colossal daring (those stunts! he really does them). But I’ve never seen The General on anything larger than a mid-sized TV.


Took a while to get things started. First they had a presentation by a “real film buff.” She had obviously gotten all her information about The General and the historic Great Locomotive Chase that inspired it from the same place I got my information — Wikipedia. But she had a Master of Fine Arts, so her info must be better.

The movie itself seemed sloooooowww and static at the start. Modern movies are not only a lot better, but they know how deliver more information during their opening credits than old films delivered in their first half hour.

But once the comic railway chase got underway … wow. This experience I’ll remember forever.

The General is about a dauntless (if also hapless and inept) Southerner in the War Between the States. Movies may be better now, but that’s something you couldn’t pull off today without some government-schooled jerker-of-knees accusing you of being a racist.

Now, for the chance to see Fritz Lang’s Metropolis on the big screen ….



  1. Glacier-Blue
    Glacier-Blue May 25, 2015 7:02 am

    If you like the old time theater organs then you will love the one that’s housed in the State Office Building in Juneau, AK. Here is a link to information on the organ:
    They did a great job restoring it.
    Stay well

  2. Glacier-Blue
    Glacier-Blue May 25, 2015 7:08 am

    Just found a U Tube video on the organ.


  3. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau May 25, 2015 7:30 am

    Oh, I’m a great fan of “The General”. It’s hard to imagine a Southern man’s efforts being portrayed with empathy, isn’t it? Certainly doesn’t fit the usual narrative.

  4. Vince
    Vince May 25, 2015 7:45 am

    Keaton was a first rate athlete. Look at the scenes in his movies where he is running! The General is one of my favorites of his also. That stunt where he is riding on the front of the locomotive and moves the railroad tie stuns me every time I see it.

  5. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 8:17 am

    “That stunt where he is riding on the front of the locomotive and moves the railroad tie stuns me every time I see it.”

    Absolutely. Merely holding the first tie while riding on the train’s cow-catcher is an impressive act. Then when he uses the tie to … well, here’s the extended version of that scene for those who don’t know it:

    The action with the rr ties starts shortly before the 2:00 mark. And that’s Keaton doing his own stuntwork.

  6. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 8:22 am

    Glacier-Blue — Though I’m not so much a fan of organ music, the stories of how a few of the old theater organs were rescued from the junk heap is inspiring — and quite a testament to the enthusiasm of those who managed it.

  7. Shel
    Shel May 25, 2015 9:21 am

    That was good, especially how he threw one log on top of the other to get it off the tracks. The prop on the tracks must have been of lighter wood.

    I recently discovered this scene, probably from searching for the origin of a crossword puzzle answer. The really amazing thing, as the second link below notes, is that he did this after having lost the thumb and index finger of his right hand.

  8. Scott
    Scott May 25, 2015 9:28 am

    I had the chance to see “Forbidden Planet” in a huge, old, restored 1930s theatre-with all the original newsreels and cartoons. Orders of magnitude better than the 19 inch Sony TV..

  9. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 12:59 pm

    Shel — OMG, yes, Harold Lloyd was amazing, too! I actually saw that scene in a movie theater when I was a kid. I don’t think I saw the original movie, just some compilation of daredevil stuff from the 1920s. The hanging from the clock business is absolutely iconic, but I liked the wobbling on the ledge after being bonked in the head even better. (Had no idea Lloyd had lost part of his hand before doing the clock stunt.)

  10. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 1:00 pm

    Scott — Hm, that must have been trippy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Forbidden Planet (though I’m certainly familiar with the ubiquitous Robby the Robot).

  11. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau May 25, 2015 2:37 pm

    Oh, Forbidden Planet is a gem, starring Leslie Nielsen in a serious role, if you can imagine that. If you are getting into old sci-fi, don’t miss The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951 version. And see also The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, a recent spoof of those old flicks. My wife and son watched it with me last time and he and I were rolling on the floor screaming and she was demanding why we thought it was so funny.

    I like Harold Lloyd too, have the DVD collection.

  12. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 3:33 pm

    Oh yeah, The Day the Earth Stood Still — the rare ’50s SF movie that’s actually a good movie. Never heard of Lost Skeleton, but it’s now in my Netflix queue, thanks.

  13. Jim B.
    Jim B. May 25, 2015 3:51 pm

    Anyone who is a true fan of the Sci-Fi movies should always see the classics from the 50s. Forbidden Planet is one. Which is why Robbie the Robot is iconic. With all the remakes done out there, you’d think they would have a remake of Forbidden Planet already, but once you see the original, you’d know why it stands the test of time. It really need to be seen on as big a screen as possible.

  14. Claire
    Claire May 25, 2015 4:52 pm

    Well, for myself, I was never a fan of 1950s Sci-Fi. The ones that were good (The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) were so good that as a kid they gave me nightmares for years. The rest were so bad even my 10-year-old self knew it. After that, I mostly stayed away.

    I have, however, seen Plan Nine from Outer Space and that weird thing they made in Texas for a budget of $15,000 dollars that was so embarrassing the actors walked out on its premier.

    You can tell I’m not a fan, though, ’cause I can’t recall its title.

  15. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau May 25, 2015 9:16 pm

    Another sorta good one is The Blob, if only because it stars Steve McQueen in his first movie role.

    Body Snatchers was really scary, definitely. I don’t know anything about The Thing. Another neat old movie was The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) with Jack Nicholson in an early role, saw it in college.

    I like reading that old sci-fi too. Has everyone read Earth Abides? Just about my favorite sci fi book ever, read multiple times.

  16. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau May 25, 2015 9:29 pm

    Apparently McQueen had a couple earlier bit parts in movies. I found this on IMDB about The Blob:
    Steve McQueen was offered $2,500 or 10% of the profits. He took the $2,500 because the film wasn’t expected to make much. It ended up grossing over $4 million. According to producer Jack H. Harris when being interviewed by film historian Tom Weaver, the film ultimately grossed $40 million.

    The actual Blob, a mixture of red dye and silicone, is still kept in the original five-gallon pail in which it was shipped to the production company in 1958 from Union Carbide. It was put on display over the years as a part of the annual Blobfest, held over a three-day period each summer in Phoenixville, PA, which provided a number of the shooting locales for the film. In addition to displaying the Blob and miniatures used in the shooting, the event features a reenactment of the famous scene in which panicked theatergoers rush to exit the town’s still-functioning Colonial Theater, as well as several showings of the film.

  17. Hanza
    Hanza May 25, 2015 10:37 pm

    My son-in-laws mother and step father had a Wurlitzer theatre organ in their house in Mesa, AZ.

    It is Wurlitzer Opus 1419, and was originally in the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

    When the SIL’s step father acquired it it was considered junk, and non repairable.

    He spent 4 years of work on it putting it back together.

    Back years ago when I was on vacation I visited the house, and noodled around on the organ.

    A professional organist used to come over to play it to keep in practice between concert tours, but then he moved away.

    Because of that the organ was sold, and dismantled.

  18. Hanza
    Hanza May 25, 2015 10:43 pm


    You are really missing a fantastic movie by not having seen Forbidden Planet.

    When it was made in 1956 the special effects were way ahead of its time.

  19. A.G.
    A.G. May 26, 2015 7:16 am

    Cool. I love how some small towns have rallied around the saving and restoring of their “movie palaces”. Most fell into gross neglect with the advent of multiplexes, and no doubt the cost of maintaining (let alone restoration) make it a foolish investment from a balance sheet perspective.

    Long live such foolishness!

  20. Claire
    Claire May 26, 2015 10:45 am

    Fascinating stuff, Hanza! And to have one that came out of the Apollo Theater definitely has a large coolness factor.

    With your link, I was able to look up the Wurlitzer I heard on Sunday and get some good info about it.

  21. Laird
    Laird May 27, 2015 9:37 am

    I love the old ’50s sci-fi movies (remember “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Them”?), even the “bad” ones (how can anyone not love “The Flying Claw”? Of course “Forbidden Planet” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (the original, not the execrable remake with Keanu Reeves) are classics, but the others are fun, too. What I don’t understand is why the SyFy Network (I so hate that new name!!) never shows any of them. The only place I can ever see them is on TCM. Does Ted Turner own the rights to all of them?

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