As you know, using recognizable music is a big no-no for me (unless it’s specified onscreen). And so, I was puzzled by hearing a certain song from a 1950s MGM musical in my head while playing for Keaton’s The Cameraman the last few shows I did.
There is a moment after the kiss in the rain, a specific shot actually, that triggered this. Marceline Day gives Buster a peck on the cheek and goes inside, and Buster has what has to be the most heartfelt and dramatic moment in all his films. He walks down the steps from her apartment, bids the doorman goodnight, and begins walking down the sidewalk. We then cut to a tracking shot, with the camera in front of Buster as he walks blissfully in the rain, still glowing from what just happened.
It is this shot that seemed familiar, and in my musical imagination I would hear the opening vamp to the song “Singing in the Rain”. Why? My instincts never go in that direction, and song title puns – especially if they’re out of the era – are on my naughty list. In mulling this over for a show of The Cameraman in December at the Silent Clowns Film Series, I had a hunch what this was.
I asked my daughter, who knows the Kelly/Donen film better than I do, what happens right before the song in Singin’ in the Rain. She replied that Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds kiss. I went to YouTube.
Someone had posted the entire musical number, starting with the scene of Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden saying goodnight. I watched it, and the similarities between the two sequences got stronger.
In lining the two clips up side by side I discovered that if you remove the song from the musical, the sequence is nearly a shot-for-shot lift from the Keaton film, right down to the casting and costuming of the cop Lockwood encounters.
What’s odd is that in an interview with Stanley Donen that’s on the DGA website (go to chapter 1, it’s at 25:35), he mentions that Buster was on payroll and “he was around” but you get the impression that Buster was on the lot and didn’t contribute all that much.
And yet, well…take a look for yourself.