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Spite Marriage Reviews

Buster Keaton plays a lovestruck tailor who's infatuated with an actress in SPITE MARRIAGE, an enjoyable, but relatively minor, entry in Keaton's oeuvre that was his last silent movie. Elmer Edgemont (Buster Keaton) is a meek pants-presser who's in love from afar with stage actress Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian). He follows her around town and attends every performance of the Civil War drama in which she's acting, wearing a tuxedo which he's borrowed from one of his wealthy customers. Elmer gets a chance to portray a soldier in the play when he wanders backstage and one of the actors runs out because he's being pursued by the police, but he destroys the sets and turns the show into an unintentional farce. Afterwards, Trilby finds out that her leading man-boyfriend Lionel (Edward Earle) has been two-timing her, and when she sees Elmer dressed in a tuxedo, she assumes he's a millionaire admirer and asks him to marry her to spite Lionel. Elmer agrees, and the two are married. The next day, Trilby realizes what she's done and her manager tells Elmer that she has left him. Elmer leaves the hotel and sees Lionel, then punches him and runs down the street. He jumps into a taxi which gangster Giovanni Scarzi (John Byron) is using as a getaway car. Scarzi forces Elmer onto his rum-running boat, but Elmer later escapes and is picked up by a yacht on which the reunited Trilby and Lionel are passengers. When a fire breaks out on the yacht, Lionel abandons Trilby along with the rest of the crew and Elmer rescues her. Scarzi and his gang come along and hijack the yacht, but Elmer beats them all up and saves Trilby, who realizes that she's really in love with him. SPITE MARRIAGE was not only Keaton's last silent film, but more importantly, his second for MGM after signing a long-term contract with the studio. Though it offers a number of amusing sequences, it ranks as a comparatively routine effort due to the studio flexing its muscles in an attempt to rein in the great comedian's eccentricity and erstwhile autonomy. This is evident by the number of contract writers (four in all) who were brought in to concoct the overplotted script, not only creating a standard romantic interest but also a gangster subplot. Dorothy Sebastian was an accomplished comedian, but it was a mistake to shift so much of the film's focus to her character, such as in the famous scene where Trilby gets drunk on her wedding night and Elmer struggles to lift her onto a chair and into bed. Though this sequence later became part of Buster's stage repertoire, it ironically reduces him to a supporting straight-man character in the film and is contrary to the pure and innocent image he had created for his female leads in all of his previous films. Still, even minor Keaton has its rewards and there is much to enjoy in the film, including a few laugh-out-loud sequences which harken back to his glory days. The first is the riotous scene where Elmer appears in the Civil War play. After walking backstage and narrowly and obliviously avoiding being hit by falling sandbags and other props, Elmer glues on a fake beard and bushy eyebrows, then goes onstage and proceeds to lift up Trilby's dress with his rifle and completely wreck the set while the audience goes into hysterics. Another classic bit of purely physical comedy is where Elmer is told to varnish the mast on the yacht and he shimmies up the pole, swings back and forth on the ropes and then tumbles upside down with his feet caught in the ropes, dangling over the sea. The film's climax is also its funniest scene, as Trilby seduces Scarzi and the members of his gang one by one, and Elmer proceeds to calmly bop them over the head with bottles, wrenches, and whatever else he can get his hands on. It's a hilarious demonstration of Keaton's ability to mine laughs with the simplest of means, but the studio bosses simply didn't trust his untamed genius to carry a whole feature, and they eventually destroyed his career by constricting him in a series of conventional roles that turned him into a second banana having nothing to do with his Great Stoneface persona. Like a number of Keaton's silents, SPITE MARRIAGE was remade by MGM as a Red Skelton vehicle (called I DOOD IT), with Buster sadly serving as an uncredited gagman.