The sequence that is considered the most expensive shot in the Silent Era is the climactic train crash in Buster Keaton’s epic comedy “The General”. At $42,000 (in 1927 dollars), the cost was more than 10% of the film’s budget. Because this was a time before CGI, Keaton, shooting in Oregon, took a real locomotive, a real bridge and set up multiple cameras. He then lit the bridge on fire, yelled “action” and captured the wreck on film all in one take.
Joseph Frank Keaton was born in 1895 and nicknamed Buster by Harry Houdini who saw the three year old fall down a flight of stairs and get back up again without a care. Houdini was touring with Buster’s vaudeville star parents at the time. At the age of four, little Buster was part of their act. Buster is pictured here in a publicity still for his greatest success, The General (1926).