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The Cameraman

Ring a Ding Ding

The Cameraman (1928)

     How many windows can Buster Keaton break with his movie camera before the joke gets old? That seems to be at least part of the plot of the first movie the silent star made under a studio contract, The Cameraman.

     Buster’s profession of making tintype photographs for the occasional person on the street is insufficient in a world of motion picture cameras, or so he finds upon meeting Sally, played by Marceline Day. After tracking down this lovely lady, whom he met in a crowd where their bodies were crushed so closely together that the man took the occasion to repeatedly smell Sally’s hair, Buster decides a job in moving picture journalism could be for him. As MGM News Bureau receptionist Sally informs him, however, he must have his own camera. Unable to afford a $2,000+ device, Buster instead trades in his still camera for a run down, old version.

     In trying to find his way to his first potential assignment –a fire– Buster instead confuses a police officer who will throughout the film be befuddled by this lunatic’s shenanigans. Buster manages to score a date with Sally, and the two head to a swimming pool/beach area. Here, Buster spends an extended amount of time sharing a dressing room with a burly gent (Edward Brophy) as the two tangle in one another’s clothes and limbs in attempts to change into their swimwear. The routine is absurd but full of laughs for the audience as the two go about this task as if it were utterly natural, if not inconvenient. Once out of the dressing room, Buster’s overly large bathing suit becomes a pickle for him in the waters as the outfit wades away and he is forced to steal pants off a large woman donned in full-body waterway. Buster nearly loses his girl to another at the pool, but the man sends his competition swimming after a handkerchief instead.

     Buster gets his big break with a tip on a likely violent outbreak during Chinatown’s new year celebration where he finds himself running his camera in the midst of flying bullets. He also picks up an eerily human-looking chimp dressed as a sailor, who also escapes harm on the back of Buster. Too bad the film cartridge was empty.

     The Cameraman is among the great Keaton silent, full-length flicks. It contains that famous sequence when the cameraman positions himself atop some scaffolding only to have it tilt and collapse forward to the ground (what a shot that would have been on his film!). All his efforts are for the love of the girl, but a profession involving a three-legged prop is doomed to disaster for such a clumsy character. Keaton does a great job of playing those blokes who while not necessarily dumb are at least oblivious to the impact of their actions.

     This flick was the first Keaton made under a studio contract as he had created all previous films under his own direction and writing. He was strongly advised against signing with MGM, but saw the opportunity to relieve himself of certain duties, including securing financing, as a plus. Although The Cameraman was not negatively impacted by the arrangement, the studio would prove to be a headache for the star down the road.

Source: Turner Classic Movies


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