Female Heroism in The General (1926)
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When going into a film that was released in 1926, 92 years ago, I expected to see damsels in distress with very little to say, and even less to add to the plot of the film. The films from the early 1900’s that I had seen prior to The General follow this representation of women. The beginning of The General starts off a bit cliche; a young man loves only one thing more than his engine: a woman. During the establishing shot, we see a framed photograph of Annabelle looking picture perfect. My expectations were completely subverted when Annabelle grabs Johnnie Gray for a kiss before he leaves the house. The first instance of romantic contact that we see the couple having is initiated by Annabelle. After this scene, I began to wonder if the portrayal of women in The General would be different than I expected it to be. Sure enough, the remainder of the film is filled with instances where the only major female role takes charge and assists Johnnie in becoming a hero, making her a hero as well.
Annabelle leads Johnnie to the series of events that result in his eventual promotion to general at the end of the film. She is the main reason for Johnnie’s persistence to enlist, telling him that she does not want to see him until he is in uniform. Later on, Annabelle jumps onto a stationed train to explore. Because the train is hijacked while Annabelle is still on it, Johnnie is forced to begin his heroic adventure to save her. Again, Annabelle acts as a catalyst for Johnnie’s heroic acts. However, this time, she propels the plot to new places and sets the stage for the events that take place in the rest of the film.
When the two heros are attempting their great escape from an enemy camp, Annabelle hides in a bag while Johnnie holds her over the pin that connects the train cars. She undoes the pin and the two escape down the railroad. Annabelle is also unafraid to get her hands dirty when the duo runs out of firewood for the locomotive. Jumping from the front of the train, she runs off to find firewood. Instead of completing the task that was initially at hand, she is creative. Without the aid of Johnnie, she ties a rope to two trees, halting the train that is chasing them.
These are just a few of the instances where Annabelle’s character shines. Undoubtedly, There are more scenes that are just as obvious as to the significance of her role. Anna belle serves as not only the love interest in the film, but also as the main reason for the plot progression. Her role in the film in essential to the story and for Johnnie’s growth into a hero figure.