film 2 of 3

Spite Marriage

Draft Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

Keaton still had it, and even this late & reputedly minor effort is full of marvels;

The way this milquetoast moves from the periphery (admiring the actress from afar, attending endless play performances), past the margins (insinuating himself into the play, then into an actual marriage) & finally, most glancingly, least convincingly & most poignantly given the Natalie Talmadge situation, into the young lady’s heart runs parallels to a lot & even most of Keaton’s screen romances;

It’s more than that though, as this is also a real romantic or relational evolution: it’s 1929, & this heroine has none of the sweetness of the disputed bride—played by Natalie Talmadge!—in Our Hospitality (1923); though she’s quite funny, especially in tantrum, one is tempted to trace a bitterness in the portrayal & the general situation to Keaton’s real-life marital sorrows, such that the quick plot & character resolution seems to be a combination of commercial expedience, wishful thinking, & sorrow;

Delightful backstage stuff, with a fresh focus on the audience & how it absorbs the play; note Buster’s wonderfully disastrous stage beard, & how expert the actor (as opposed to the character) is at arranging it; this mayhem is masterful, gradually rising, tellingly enhanced by all the right reaction shots;

The drunk at the party scene is actually rather disturbing, maybe because of possible/actual autobiographical parallels; the famous put-to-bed scene is great, but you wonder who chose to move in to the medium shots, which obscure the action and contradict all the Bazinian/wide angle/deep frame stuff that so applies to Keaton’s best work; more of MGM’s inexorable take-over, more career decline & fall?

Note the almost excessive intensity as Buster punches that foppish actor—more displacement? when you start looking, it’s everywhere!—the closing coincidences (she’s on the boat!) are all pleasing generic inevitabilities, though the vivid clearing of the ship is quite fresh and unexpected, while the gradual taking over and dispatching of the bad guys, paced and varied most pleasingly, represents the best of both approaches