...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.