Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Cameraman (1928)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Cameraman (1928)

In co-director/actor Buster Keaton's classic, slapstick dramatic comedy (of eight reels), with a remarkable number of clever and hilarious set-pieces - it was his first film (a two-year deal) with a major studio - MGM:

  • the opening title card praised the brave and daring News Reel cameramen ("our modern heroes") who "defies death to give us pictures of the world's happenings"; however, the title character was not one of them - but simply a humble, vendor-photographer selling 10 cent tintype portraits on a NYC sidewalk; the infatuated Buster (aka Luke Shannon) (Buster Keaton himself) aspired to become an acclaimed newsreel-cameraman to win over pretty MGM secretary Sally Richards (Marceline Day) who worked in the studio's News Reels division with newsreel MGM cameraman Harold Stagg (Harold Goodwin) under their MGM boss Edward J. Blake (Sidney Bracey)
  • Buster first met MGM employee Sally (and became infatuated with her) when he was interrupted by an MGM camera crew (including Harold) during his day job of taking tintype photos; they were filming famed English swimmer Gertrude Ederle on the street (seen in vintage newsreel footage of a ticker tape celebration); Harold was Buster's rival for Sally's courtship and affection and often mocked Buster's attempts at impressing Sally
Buster Infatuated with Sally Richards
  • to acquire a job at MGM to be closer to Sally, Buster was told that he required a motion picture camera for a trial interview; he rushed to a pawn shop where he traded in his still tintype camera to purchase an obsolete, battered, hand-cranked Pathe silent-film movie camera for $140 dollars, to be prepared to shoot a wide variety of "interesting" subjects for his "chance to break in"; he jumped onto a passing fire engine to take him to the scene of the Grand Central warehouse fire, but it only returned to the fire station; a title card described: "Within an hour he was photographing everything from soup to nuts... mostly the nuts"
  • Buster's first stop was a visit to an empty Yankee Stadium, where he asked the groundskeeper: "Aren't the Yankees playing today?" and was told: "Sure, in St. Louis!"; to simulate sports action, Buster fully-improvised a pantomimed one-man baseball game as he threw make-believe baseballs from the pitching mound, and then pretended to be a batter at home plate who hit a pitch and ran around the bases
  • when Buster's first test film reel was screened for the MGM bosses, he became embarrassed that his footage was double-exposed, or sometimes running backwards or at tilted angles; for example, a female diver dove back up onto her diving board, a battleship floated down Fifth Avenue, pedestrians were being run over by buses and cars, and a parade marched up the Hudson River

Embarrassed and Humiliated Buster

Battleship on 5th Avenue

Pedestrians and Vehicles
  • Buster was dismissed from the screen room, and forlornly left the MGM News Reel office; Sally tried to bolster his confidence in the outer hallway: "Don't be discouraged. No one would ever amount to anything if he didn't try. You must always grind forward... never backward"; Buster hesitantly asked for a next-day date on Sunday to go for a walk together, but Sally said she already had a date, but might call him if she was free
  • on Sunday morning starting at dawn in his sparse, rented one-bedroom unit, while Buster nervously awaited Sally's phone call on his rooming house's shared phone down three flights of stairs, he destructively hammered open his piggy bank to retrieve his last savings; when Sally finally phoned to tell him that her Sunday date was cancelled, he sprinted up Fifth Avenue and the sidewalk as he dodged cars and other pedestrians to enter Sally's all-female boarding house just as she hung up the phone, and then apologized: "I'm sorry if I'm a little late"
  • on their 'date,' Buster and Sally visited the Municipal Plunge - an indoor public swimming pool where Buster entered a small-scale, men's dressing-room in a crowded bathhouse; he was confronted in one of the tiny cubicle-booths by a burly man (Edward Brophy) who wasn't willing to compromise and share the small space; when Buster asserted: "This is my dressing room!", the man threatened: "Shut up... or it'll be your coffin!"; Buster was forced into a corner, became entangled in the man's suspenders and clothing, and eventually ended up on the man's back, who complained: "Will you keep out of my undershirt?"
Struggling in a Public Changing-Room Bathhouse
  • Buster exited the bath-house dressing room, wearing the bigger man's oversized, ill-fitting bathing costume, and soon after lost his suit in the public pool after attempting to impress Sally with a "real fancy dive"; he remained underwater to hide being naked, and made a very deep dive to avoid Sally's request: "Let's get out of here and go walking on the beach"; Harold offered Sally a ride home in his car, forcing Buster to sit in the rumble seat out in the drenching rain (and catching cold)
  • to help Buster, Sally tipped him off in the film office to a holiday celebration in Chinatown; he promised her that he would film the event: "I'll make good this time, Sally"; rushing to the assignment on the sidewalk, Buster literally bumped into an organ grinder and appeared to lethally injure his hurdy-gurdy monkey (Josephine the Monkey); after being forced to buy the dead monkey by a cop, Buster was astounded when the monkey miraculously revived and they teamed up together

Buster With His Revived Hurdy-Gurdy Monkey on His Shoulder

Buster Filming Outbreak of Tong Warfare in Chinatown

Buster In the Midst of Gunfire
  • in Chinatown, Buster discovered an outbreak of a dangerous Tong War with machine gunfire between two gangs; while narrowly avoiding serious injury, Buster was able to capture exciting footage; his day's filming venture ended when he was rescued by the arrival of police, and he bragged to Harold who arrived late: "I took the whole blamed war!"; however, back in the MGM office, Buster realized that he had accidentally forgotten to load his camera with a film cartridge - the boss quipped: "Pretty short war"; Sally was reprimanded by the boss for aiding the clumsy and foolish Buster: "It's all your fault that this fool has been hanging around here!"; Buster sadly promised Sally that he would never bother her again as a way to save her job
  • the next day at the Westport Yacht Club Regatta, Sally had joined Harold in his boat for the competition; Buster had decided to cover the regatta, and while rowing on the water, he accidentally discovered the missing film reel footage in his rowboat; he confirmed with the monkey that the Tong War footage was saved after asking: "Did you change this film box in Chinatown?"; he set up his film camera on the shore and happened to film Sally being thrown from Harold's boat into the water during a rapid turn; Buster redeemed himself by rowing out and rescuing the drowning and unconscious Sally from being hit by Harold's circling runaway boat, even though his own rowboat was rammed and destroyed
  • during a brief absence when Buster raced to a nearby drug-store for first-aid supplies for Sally, Harold took the unconscious Sally into his arms on the shore; when she regained consciousness in his arms, she mistakenly thought: "You're awfully brave to have saved me" - and the cowardly and caddish Harold decided to play along: "What else could a fellow do?"; he had only thought of saving himself and couldn't legitimately take credit for her rescue; when Buster returned to the scene, he watched as a thankful Sally walked off in Harold's arms - and didn't realize that his monkey on-shore was hand-cranking the action
  • the next morning, the dejected Buster sold his film camera back to the pawn shop owner (at a reduced price), and resumed his tintype photography job on the street; he had also offered his film cartridge canister to MGM boss Edward Blake for nothing; following the screening of both the Tong War and the river-rescue footage, the astounded boss exclaimed: "That's the best camera work I've seen in years!"; he ordered Sally to summon Buster: "Get that man here quick!"; she located Buster on the street corner and thanked him: "I'll never be able to thank you enough"; Buster was thoroughly vindicated and had proven himself to be a capable cameraman; she excitedly told him a reception was being planned to honor him: "Everybody's talking about you! They're all waiting to give you a great reception!"

The Vindicated Buster Thanked and Congratulated by Sally

Buster Mistakenly Believed That The Ticker Tape Parade for Charles Lindbergh was for Him!
  • coincidentally, at that very moment on the street, as Sally led Buster back to the MGM office, Buster thought that a ticker-tape parade in progress was being held for him, but instead it was to celebrate famed aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927
  • [Note: the film was book-ended with newsreel footage: the initial inclusion of newsreel footage was in the early scene as Buster was taking tintype photographs on the sidewalk when he was interrupted by a celebratory parade for English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle in 1926 who was seen standing with NYC mayor Jimmy Walker at City Hall.]

Buster - A Sidewalk Tintype Portrait Photographer

Buster with MGM Secretary Sally Richards (Marceline Day)

Buster's Rival Harold Stagg (Harold Goodwin) With Sally

Buster's One-Man Baseball Game in an Empty Yankee Stadium

Buster's First Test Film Reel Screening

Sally Encouraging Buster to Persevere

Dodging Cars to Race to Sally's Boarding House for a Date

With Sally at Municipal Plunge

Nervously Nude in Swimming Pool after Dive

Riding Home in Harold's Rumble Seat in the Rain

Buster Filming the Yacht Club Regatta

Buster Rescuing Sally From Drowning

Cowardly Harold Taking Credit For Sally's Rescue

Monkey Hand-Cranking the Film Camera to Capture Footage of Buster's Rescue of Sally


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