Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick) ***

Director: Edward Sedgwick

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey

Background: Keaton made a risky move to MGM after the financial failure of his films at United Artists led that studio to interfere with some of his story elements and forced him to hire a production manager. The film would be Buster's debut at MGM, and he handled uncredited directing duties on it.

Story: Buster is an aspiring photographer who falls in love with a woman who works in MGM's newsreel department. He sets out to win her over by trying to get pictures sold at the studio.

Thoughts: Like most of Buster's work, this is a very uneven film. It has some brilliant sequences, but then an entire middle section that falls flat and almost derails the whole thing. The two brilliant sequences come at the end. The first is when aspiring photographer Buster gets caught up in a gang war. It's a dizzying sequence that really showcases the advanced abillities of filmmaking at the end of the silent era. The ending features some great storytelling surprises. Unfortunately, there is a looooooooong middle section where Buster makes an ass of himself at the pool. There was hardly anything funny about this whole scene and it really takes away from what could have been a great film. It boggles the mind how these sequences of such varying quality could exist in the same film, but alas that is the story of Buster's career and why I'd rank him behind both Chaplin and Lloyd among the silent film comedians.

Postscript: The film was well received by critics, but MGM must not have been too happy with the financial results, because they removed Buster's creative freedom. Some of these later films would be successful financially, but Buster hated them and his career would never be the same. He continued acting in supporting roles through the 60s, including a cameo in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard and teaming up with Charlie Chaplin in Limelight.

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