“There are only two cures for love: marriage and suicide.”
A dry cleaner (Buster Keaton) obsessively in love with a stage actress (Dorothy Sebastian) is distressed to learn she’s married him simply to spite her co-star (Edward Earle), who she’s still infatuated with.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Actors and Actresses
- Buster Keaton Films
- Obsessive Fans
- Silent Films
I’ll begin my review of Buster Keaton’s final silent film by noting that not a single one of his feature-length silent movies (all of which are either listed or reviewed in Peary’s book, btw) has been a disappointment — even his supposedly “lesser” titles, like this one. While it may not be quite on the same level as his most widely acknowledged classics, it’s consistently amusing, and full of exactly the kind of boldly humorous (and often audaciously physical) sight gags one comes to expect from Keaton. Here, he plays a variation on all the seemingly-milquetoast characters he embodied in previous features — a man pining for a beautiful woman who at first is out of his reach, but eventually (yes, there’s always a happy ending) comes to realize what a loyal and brave catch he is. The most memorable scenes in this particular flick are probably Keaton’s bungled attempt to stand-in for a missing actor in Sebastian’s play, and his attempt to get his soused new wife-in-name-only into bed — but plenty of others are chuckle-worthy as well. Keaton fans won’t be disappointed in the slightest.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
No, though it’s recommended, and (naturally) a must for Keaton completists.
One thought on “Spite Marriage (1929)”
To me, Keaton took his silents out with a bang with this one. If ‘SM’ is considered a “lesser” title, I think it’s deceptively so. It’s very cleverly constructed overall, surprising the viewer with twists and turns. I’d’ve been content with the whole thing taking place in the theater milieu (which is where it begins) – but, oddly, it turns into a ‘crime drama’ and then shifts to a ‘sea story’ (not wanting to give much away, you understand).
One of the best bits in the film’s first third (as note the first photo used in the assessment) has certain appeal for gay ffs: Keaton is so totally immersed in Sebastian’s onstage performance (he’s seen it 35 times), that he begins touching the man seated next to him, followed by resting his head on the man’s shoulder. (Note the guy’s reaction.)
The “soused wife” scene is particularly noteworthy because Keaton and Sebastian are pretty much matched in height (him 5’5″; her 5’3″) and size. It’s almost acrobatic, with Sebastian displaying a fair amount of actor’s trust in her partner. (Interestingly, Keaton and Sebastian were apparently ‘romantically linked’ in life at this time. In ‘SM’, she comes off as one of his most accomplished leading ladies – in a tricky role that begins by purposely losing the audience’s favor.)
The film’s crowning sequence (of course) is the lengthy final segment at sea. Here there is a good deal of perfectly timed and impressive physical shenanigans – some of it very impressive indeed because it looks like such real, without-a-net stuff.
I’m in absolute agreement that (from what I’ve seen) Keaton tends to not disappoint even if a film is somehow lower on the scale. I’m absolutely in love with his work; he’s a consummate entertainer and filmmaker.