His first film under the new rules is still pure Keaton; the battles behind the scenes just don’t show in The Cameraman (1928), a nearly perfect example of Keaton’s seamless filmmaking. The situation soon became intolerable. Within a few months, Keaton’s work suffered drastically. By 1933 and What, No Beer? with Jimmy Durante as his highly unsuitable partner, the on-screen Keaton is so miserable and in such an alcoholic state that he is almost unbearable to look at.
Where Keaton on his own is resourceful and poetic, with a startling vision of the world, Keaton at MGM is a bumbling idiot stuck in mundane and wordy plots. Both on- and off-screen, Keaton was trying to break out of a prison to which he had been sentenced with no knowledge of his crime.
“No one saw it for four or five pictures. Then it got so bad, no one could miss it—What, No Beer? and Sidewalks of New York. Oh, they were brutal! I knew before the camera turned on the first scene that we had the perfect foundation for a stinker. And by now, I couldn’t tell anyone anything . . . . So I slipped. I did what so many others have done. I started to drink. And that’s when I blew it”
“He was always playing the dope,” said Eleanor. “So they tabbed him as a dope and figured they could get away with murder—gyp him, put him down, knife him. Too many times he went along rather than make a scene.”