Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Cameraman

Go To

The Cameraman is a 1928 silent film starring Buster Keaton, directed by Edward Sedgwick and an uncredited Keaton.

Buster is a tintype photographer in New York City, who takes portraits of people on the sidewalk. He meets pretty Sally (Marceline Day), an MGM secretary, at a ticker-tape parade where she accompanies a squad of newsreel cameramen. Buster, enchanted with Sally, decides that he will win her heart by becoming a newsreel cameraman too. Comic hijinks ensue as Buster struggles to make it as a cameraman while romancing Sally and fending off Harold (Harold Stagg), a rival MGM cameraman and a rival for Sally's affections.

The Cameraman was the first film Keaton made for MGM after leaving the world of independent filmmaking behind and signing an MGM contract. The decision to become an MGM contract player is commonly regarded as the decisive negative turning point of Keaton's career. Keaton himself called it the worst mistake he ever made, and it is certainly true that his career quickly collapsed not long after this, as MGM utterly failed to manage Keaton's transition to sound. However, The Cameraman is regarded by most critics as a classic that ranks along with all the great movies that Keaton made as an independent filmmaker.


  • Action Pet: Buster's monkey jumps on a Tong thug that is about to jump Buster, saving Buster's life. Then the monkey starts cranking the camera when Buster saves Sally, proving Harold's cowardice and Buster's heroism.
  • Banana Peel: The classic banana peel is used for a throwaway gag while Buster and Sally are out walking.
  • Bookcase Passage: Buster thinks he's made it to safety when he escapes the Tong War shootout by hiding in an empty building—but some scary Chinese gangsters enter the room via a hidden bookcase passage.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins with the Meet Cute between Buster and Sally at a ticker-tape parade. It ends with Sally finding Buster at another ticker-tape parade, kissing him, and telling him he got the job.
  • The Cavalry: Buster is cornered by the gangsters and it looks like curtains for him, when the cops burst through the door and arrest everyone.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The scene with Buster in the changing booth that the fat man barges into is a long comic sequence, listed below in The Stateroom Sketch. It pays off again with another sight gag when Buster leaves the changing booth and is revealed to be wearing the fat man's enormous swimsuit, while the fat man is crammed into Buster's tiny swimsuit. Then it pays off again when Buster loses the fat man's loose, baggy Slippery Swimsuit in the pool.
  • Cue the Rain: Buster and Sally are trying to make it to dinner when Harold pulls up and offers them a ride. Buster is embarrassed when Harold puts Sally upfront with him, while he gets stuck in the rumble seat in the back—which, unlike the front seats, doesn't have a top to pull up. Naturally, the heavens let loose with rain.
  • Dirty Coward: Harold is taking a boat ride with Sally when he tries to make too tight a turn and winds up flinging them overboard. Harold swims away without a thought for Sally, who is endangered by the boat that's stuck in a spin. Buster has to dive in and save her.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Every boat is a Pinto. A motorboat without a pilot gets stuck in a counter-clockwise turn. Does the boat just keep turning until it runs out of gas? No. It blows up.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: When Sally comes out of the changing room in her swimsuit, a half-dozen guys from the pool jump out to escort her.
  • Job Title
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Buster is trying to get a job with MGM. In Real Life Keaton had just gotten a job with MGM.
  • Meet Cute: Buster is squeezed up next to Sally by the press of the crowd at the ticker-tape parade.
  • Mischief-Making Monkey: Buster winds up the unwilling custodian of an organ-grinding monkey, who sometimes makes life harder for Buster (he switches out the film canister with Buster's precious footage of the shootout), and sometimes helps Buster out (see Action Pet above).
  • Naked People Trapped Outside: See Slippery Swimsuit below.
  • Organ Grinder: Buster is in hot pursuit of a story to film when he crashes right into an organ grinder and his monkey. The monkey appears to be dead, so Buster has to pay the organ grinder. The monkey is only stunned, however, and soon wakes up to make more complications for Buster.
  • Running Gag
    • The glass panel in the door to the MGM newsreel office, which Buster keeps smashing. By the end of the movie, the glass is protected with a metal grate.
    • That one beat cop that Buster winds up annoying over and over again.
  • Slippery Swimsuit: Buster loses his baggy, oversized swimsuit at the local pool, leaving him desperate to cover himself. He winds up stealing the bloomers from a fat lady's giant swimsuit.
  • The Stateroom Sketch: With only two people, but the effect is the same, when a larger man crams himself into the tiny changing room where Buster is trying to put on a swimsuit.
  • Stock Footage: Of ticker tape parades at the beginning and end of the movie. The second parade even includes a clip of Charles Lindbergh, but Buster thinks the parade is for him.
  • Tickertape Parade: How Buster meets Sally and the MGM film crew at the beginning, and where Sally finds him again at the end.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Buster, looking for something newsworthy, goes to film a parade in Chinatown. A violent shootout between rival gangs breaks out. Buster's footage of the "Tong War" wins him the job as a newsreel cameraman.