So starts the MGM years, and some parallels to the Marx Brothers joining MGM can be found. Like A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, THE CAMERAMAN, Keaton's first MGM, is definitely the strongest of the MGM bunch and a classic film. Their respective debut MGM films are also both their best films from a standard filmmaking point of view in that both contain the most satisfying story of all their films. However, independent Keaton and Paramount Marx Brothers were not standard filmmaking, so the essence of The Marx Brothers and Keaton are found in earlier productions. Still, for one film a piece, each comic remains basically true to themselves in a standard Hollywood framework, and MGM is to be commended on this. Too bad it didn't last, though in my opinion, Keaton was hurt more overall than the Marx Brothers at MGM...which we'll discuss in other reviews. This week, we have a classic on our hand.
One other point I would like to make before discussing the film proper is that I feel the silent era died when it was reaching its artistic peak, tragically. Make no mistake, late silents are much better than early talkies. More fluid camera movement not limited by boom mics, and late era silent acting became much more understated than early talkies, where dialogue was very stage bound. MGM arguably made the best late silents, and I throw THE CAMERAMAN in a group with films like THE WIND, THE CROWD, WEST OF ZANZIBAR, and SHOW PEOPLE. MGM had it going on in 1928!
As for THE CAMERAMAN itself, no big long chases and breathtaking stunt laden scenes we all know and love Keaton for.. .and none are needed. The storytelling is strong enough, but there are lots of great comic bits thrown in. The only one that really doesn't advance the story is the bit at Yankee Stadium (yes, the real Yankee Stadium), where Keaton brilliantly pantomimes a baseball game all by himself. You can tell Keaton loved baseball, the attention to detail is aeesome. The way he pantomimes holding runners on, calling outfielders in, ducking a high and inside pitch and almost charging the mound...absolutely brilliant work. So what if it doesn't advance the plot, it's character building as it shows Keaton's love of filming things, central to the character in the film.
Gotta love the dressing room scene with Edward Brophy, one of those great claustrophobic comic scenes up there with SCRAMBLED BRAINS. Vernon Dent is sort of involved in this one too, as yes, that's Vernon Buster gets the overstuffed swimwear mixed up with, which leads us to the classic high diving scene. I was familiar as a kid with this gag where the swimwear is lost in the water and the comic is trying to hide his nakedness because Rowan Atkinson did this same gag in one of his Mr. Bean skits. Now I know where he got it from. Classic gag, and hysterical with all the girls swimming by him as he's naked. The Tong War bit is also excellent, especially love the way Keaton gets the third leg of his tripod camera blown off on purpose by gunfire to match the other two blown off legs! Also props for the camerawork of Buster running high speed up and down those stairs, only to run quickly enough to his girl before she realizes he's no longer on the phone with her.
Oh, and there's the girl herself, Marceline Day. Easily my favorite Keaton leading lady, and really, Jobyna Ralston is the only competition for my silent comic leading lady ultimate crush. Beautiful girl, but beyond that, it's the character she plays, who is always supportive and patient with Keaton. Unbelievably likeable, how could Keaton not fall for her? That's one of the reasons why THE CAMERAMAN works so well. Harold Lloyd usually had the best romances, while Chaplin had the best heartbreaks, but Keaton does Lloyd territory very well here, and he had the lady to pull it off. Love that shot of Keaton where it's the close up of his eyes over the camera looking at Marceline Day, used by TCM in their Silent Sunday Night intro.
A great film overall, and one of my all-time favorite Keaton films and films in general. We have one more silent to go, then the talkies. Umbrella Sam, you're going to have to tell me that a Disney connection in this film, I'm clueless.