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Author Topic: Spite Marriage (1929) - Buster Keaton  (Read 145 times)

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Offline metaldams

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Spite Marriage (1929) - Buster Keaton
« on: December 15, 2017, 09:44:58 PM »
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  •       ...and so the downfall begins, kind of.  SPITE MARRIAGE is not a total disaster, in fact in has its good moments of the kind you won't be seeing much of in future Keaton films.  That said, this is the first time we are introduced to the Elmer character, a mainstay in the rest of the films we'll be reviewing.  Previous, Keaton characters, while having the occasionally dumb moments, generally turn out to be resourceful guys who do creative and funny things to get by in this world.  Look at THE GENERAL as an example and the endless train gags Keaton uses to keep the northern soldiers at bay.  The Elmer character is pretty much a straight forward idiot...a character that works well for The Three Stooges.  For Keaton, however, I just feel pity.  Fortunately, bits of the old Keaton show up in the second half of the film.

          The first half of the film, though?  Keaton falls for a woman completely unworthy of his attention and acts like a complete idiot in public.  Last week in THE CAMERAMAN, Keaton falls for a beautifu, understanding, and supportive Marceline Day.  Contrast it to this week to Dorothy Sebastian's Trilby Drew character.  Like the title suggest, Drew only gets together and marries Keaton out of complete spite because her wanted lover falls for someone else.  A lot of drama is dedicated to Keaton falling for such an unworthy character.  Also, through circumstance, Keaton gets into a stage play, (Drew is an actress Keaton stalks by watching her play every night for weeks on end), where he has to kiss Drew.  What follows is a series of gags that simply show what an idiot Elmer is.  Knocking down scenery, entering through the curtain in the middle of the action, awkwardly holding Drew while kissing her as if he's never touched a woman before...absolutely no resourcefulness we know and love Keaton for.

          Character wise, about halfway through the film, things get better for Keaton.  As he's told by Drew's wanted lover that she just married Keaton out of spite by being rejected, Keaton punched the man in the face, the first time Elmer mans up.  From here, through circumstance, Elmer and Drew are on a yacht together.  Elmer's last act of idiocy is accidentally setting a fire below deck, but as everybody on board leaves and Drew's lover escapes instead of saves her (similar to plot device in THE CAMERAMAN with the speedboat scene), Keaton takes out the fire and becomes a resourceful guy.  Eventually a gang of criminals get on board and the leader tries to rape Drew.  Elmer knocks him out with a wine bottle and is excellent in getting the other criminal gang members knocked out.  Some great parts include a very cute Drew strutting her figure and smile to the bad guys to go after her as Elmer knocks them out.  The best gag, though, is when a criminal crew guy needs to fix gauges below deck and tells Elmer.  Elmer keeps asking if everything is fixed, and when it finally is, delivers the knockout blow.  That's a prime Keaton gag.

          As far as physical comedy, no breathtaking classics, which you'll never see in an MGM film, but some good stuff.  Great overhead shots of Keaton painting the top of the ship, as well as Keaton being thrown overboard, only to grab onto a rope tied the the sail of the ship to prevent falling below.  Great stuff.  The well regarded scene of Keaton putting a drunk Dorothy Sebastian to bed needs a mention.  In this scene, she is completely out cold and motionless, so Keaton picks her up and finds several different ways to fail getting her limp body in bed.  A wonderful bit of physical comedy Keaton would do with his real life wife, Eleanor, on stage later in life.  Actually, Dorothy Sebastian, who does a fine job here but was saddled with an unsympathetic role, was friends with Keaton for years and they even had an affair.  She will appear in the later Educational short, ALLEZ-OOP. 

          On its own, not a bad film.  Just disappointing based on what came before, but worth seeing for any Keaton fan.  Next week though, the first half Elmer shows up much more often, and is even given dialogue to match.  Hang on tight.


    Offline Paul Pain

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    Re: Spite Marriage (1929) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #1 on: December 16, 2017, 05:14:53 AM »
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  • Ahhhh... the Keaton like the one in the suckier Columbia shorts!
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    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: Spite Marriage (1929) - Buster Keaton
    « Reply #2 on: December 16, 2017, 05:56:55 PM »
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  • So, having read both metaldams’s review and a synopsis online ahead of time, I will say that this film was not as bad as I was thinking it was going to be. It’s strange, because, as I went along through the film, I actually realized that I didn’t think the premise was all that terrible. Dorothy Sebastian is not a bad choice for the leading lady; the scene of her getting drunk at the club showed that she could handle physical comedy pretty well, and the character, though definitely unlikable, was not as unlikable as I would have thought. Honestly, I think this could have worked well had she warmed up to Keaton after he took her home and took care of her; having her appreciate Keaton’s kindness would have helped make up for her being so rude to him earlier. The problem is they don’t go in that direction. Instead, we end up with him on the ship and having to prove himself worthy of her love, despite the fact that it should be the opposite: she should be the one proving that she’s worthy of his love. I’ll admit Keaton does come off as kind of creepy for stalking her like that, but when she does marry him, he is very kind to her and clearly has her best interest at heart, something that the other guy clearly doesn’t have from the beginning, yet for some reason she continues to obsess over him, while Keaton similarly continues to obsess over someone who clearly doesn’t appreciate him. It’s a frustratingly stupid love triangle, if you can even call it that. In addition, while I like Keaton punching Lionel outside the building, honestly, I think he should have done it in the building to both Lionel and Drew’s manager, especially after that jerk had the guts to say that she would divorce him for desertion! Ok, so maybe this film was as bad as I thought it would be, but in a different way than I was expecting. Paul has a certain trademark that applies to this story.

    So, OK, outside of the terribly handled story, does the film have any redeeming factors? Well, as metaldams mentioned, a lot of the stuff on the ship is pretty intense, even if I feel it was not the right way to handle the story. In addition, there are a few things in the first half that are decently funny. I did like the running gag with the hats and handshake, as well as the scene of Keaton trying to get Sebastian on to the bed. I guess the fact that it is silent does make it a bit more tolerable than it would have been in the sound era, but Keaton’s characterization is way too noticeablely dumber and the film very rarely seems to understand what made Keaton so great in the first place, with a few exceptions. A very misguided effort, this is my pick for Keaton’s worst silent film (and my apologies to COLLEGE, which I had previously listed under that title).

    4 out of 10