Combustible Celluloid
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With: Buster Keaton, Dorothy Sebastian, Edward Earle, Leila Hyams, William Bechtel, Jack Byron
Written by: Lew Lipton, Ernest S. Pagano, Richard Schayer, Robert E. Hopkins
Directed by: Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 76
Date: 03/23/1929

Spite Marriage (1929)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Wife Fight

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buster Keaton's final silent film, Spite Marriage (1929), is included in the 2004 two-disc DVD set, Buster Keaton Collection. It shows the filmmaker losing ground in the battle with the MGM executives. The gags here are a little more routine and tend to pale next to Keaton's earlier masterworks, but the film still has some high points and an excellent female lead.

Buster appears as a love-struck pants presser who falls in love with a famous actress and attends all her shows wearing borrowed clothes from his business. When her boyfriend dumps her, she marries Buster for revenge on the fly, but quickly separates from him. Heartbroken, Buster winds up at sea, first escaping a boatload of smugglers, then aboard a fancy yacht. Because of a fire, everyone abandons ship except for Buster and one other passenger -- his estranged wife!

The film gets funnier as it dispenses with plot and gets to the sea-going gags. According to the commentary track, Buster insisted on including a scene in every film in which he gets soaked with water. He considered it a good luck charm and a box office draw.

Because it was made in the early days of the sound era, Spite Marriage has a built-in soundtrack score with scattered special effects, although the dialogue is still silent. (MGM only had one sound stage at the time, and it was booked solid.) Silent-era film historians John Bengstrom and Jeffrey Vance provide a very sporadic commentary track with more long, silent bits than actual information. Each silent film comes with its own photo gallery.

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