Cast & Crew
Elmer, a pants-presser, falls in love with Trilby Drew, the star of a legitimate show, and attends every performance. Trilby is then jilted by her leading man, Lionel Denmore, and marries Elmer out of spite. She becomes intoxicated on their wedding night, and Elmer, realizing the reason for the marriage, leaves her and finds work as a sailor on a rumrunner's boat. Elmer later transfers at sea to a yacht on which Trilby is a passenger and proves his love and courage during a series of disasters. Trilby at last comes to realize her love for Elmer.
Spite Marriage was an unqualified success at the time of its release, even though Keaton wasn't particularly thrilled to participate in its creation. He originally approached MGM production head Irving Thalberg with the idea of shooting a comic Western co-starring himself and Marie Dressler. But the creative autonomy Keaton received while writing, filming, and acting in such pre-MGM masterpieces as Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) and The General (1927) was now a thing of the past.
Thalberg was constantly aware of the bottom line. He felt that Keaton's prior films, which were partly created out of time-consuming improvisations, were not as profitable as they could have been. Buster's first feature with MGM, The Cameraman (1928), was rather carefully supervised and did considerable business at the box office. Thalberg was convinced that Keaton - strictly adhering to a completed script - would benefit the studio.
It's ironic that Keaton - whose career would collapse partially due to the onset of talkies - wanted Spite Marriage to be his first sound picture. Though his brilliance as a physical performer was undeniable, he realized the success of Warner Bros.' The Jazz Singer (1927) marked the beginning of the end of the silent era. While interested in the possibilities of sound, Keaton, much like his comic peer, Charles Chaplin, was concerned that the new technology would be embraced to the eventual detriment of his art. He envisioned a type of comedy that would rely mostly on humorous sound effects. "It needn't be one long yak-yak," he told Thalberg.
Nevertheless, Thalberg insisted that Spite Marriage would be completely silent...especially since MGM had only one set of sound equipment at its disposal. Keaton and his director, Edward Sedgwick, forged ahead while chafing under the supervision of both Thalberg and producer Larry Weingarten, who happened to be married to Thalberg's sister. Luckily, this friction threw off some memorable sparks; many of the better moments in Spite Marriage arose via head-butting with the executives. "I'm afraid," Keaton said years later, "that Larry Weingarten was plenty sore, especially when the putting-the-bride-to-bed (sic) was such a success."
The sequence Keaton refers to is a genuine classic, in which he drunkenly attempts to get an equally inebriated Sebastian into bed without waking her up. It's a tour de force of comic timing, as he hauls his co-star around in a variety of ungainly positions. (Gregory Peck can be seen enacting the same routine, to less inspired effect, with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, 1953. Keaton also returned to it in the 1950s, frequently performing it on stage with his third wife, Eleanor Norris.) Though her work in this scene is severely inhibited by definition, Sebastian was the strongest actress to ever share the screen with Keaton. Their ease with one another can be traced to the fact that they were enjoying what would become a lengthy love affair while filming Spite Marriage.
Keaton and Sedgwick would go on to make seven more films together, all of which were talkies and far less rewarding than Spite Marriage. It's an often under-appreciated treasure, and the last fully realized display of Keaton's towering gifts as a filmmaker.
Director: Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Screenplay: Robert E. Hopkins and Lew Lipton
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Reggie Lanning
Editing: Frank Sullivan
Costume Design: David Cox
Principal Cast: Buster Keaton (Elmer), Dorothy Sebastian (Trilby Drew), Edward Earle (Lionel Benmore), Leila Hyams (Ethyl Norcrosse), William Bechtel (Nussbaum), John Byron (Scarzi).
by Paul Tatara
The Buster Keaton Collection
Considered by many cinema's greatest silent clown, Buster Keaton was a consummate practitioner of physical comedy whose career began in vaudeville at the age of three. Wearing trademark slapshoes and big baggy pants identical to his father's, most gags involved pratfalls with his father kicking him across the stage or tossing him into the air. Within a few years of his debut, Keaton was scoring rave reviews which applauded the physical comedy that would come to be so much a part of his film fame. "The dexterity or expertness with which Joe Keaton handles 'Buster' is almost beyond belief of studied 'business.' The boy accomplishes everything attempted naturally, taking a dive into the backdrop that almost any comedy acrobat of more mature years could watch with profit."
(Variety, March 12, 1910).
Keaton found tremendous eloquence in his deadpan style with alert and expressive eyes, lithe acrobat's body and an unforgettable air of grace described by critic James Agee as "a fine, still and dreamlike beauty." The films in this collection mark a peak in his popularity and glow with Keaton's unique and timeless style which combines very funny comedy with the ability to move an audience to tears.
"We are delighted to be collaborating once again with our partners at Turner Classic Movies to present another collection of silent rarities from the unparalleled Warner Bros. Pictures vaults," said George Feltenstein, WHV's Senior Vice President Classic Catalog. "As with last year's highly praised Lon Chaney Collection, this new Buster Keaton collection contains films which hold a very special place in cinema history, and we are proud to join with TCM to bring these crown jewels from the Warner library to DVD collectors everywhere."
Details of The Buster Keaton Collection Films
The Cameraman - After becoming infatuated with a pretty office worker, Keaton sets out to become a newsreel cameraman in order to be closer to his dream girl. Keaton's first film for MGM, made in 1928, is considered one of his funniest masterworks and offers up a feast of visual gags. The newly remastered DVD includes a new score by Arthur Barrow.
Spite Marriage - In this 1929 silent laugh-filled classic, Keaton stars as Elmer, a man madly in love with stage star Trilbey Drew. When Trilbey's boyfriend gets engaged to another woman, she marries Elmer in a desperate attempt to get even. This was Keaton's final silent comedy, and is presented here with its original Vitaphone music score.
Free and Easy - In Keaton's first talkie, he stars as an agent to beauty contest winner Elvira Plunkett. When Elvira decides to try her luck in Hollywood, Elmer goes along to help and the two soon find themselves falling in love. Chaos ensues when the couple must contend with Elvira's disapproving mother and a handsome movie star, who also has his sights set on the lovely Elvira. This 1930 classic is highlighted by guest appearances from a host of other MGM stars of the era including Robert Montgomery and Lionel Barrymore.
DVD Special Features Include:
- Legendary filmmaker Kevin Brownlow's all-new documentary So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton and MGM (produced especially for this DVD release). This unforgettable documentary chronicles the comedian's MGM period, and features fascinating, rare footage including archival interviews with the master himself
- Photo montages from the two silent films
- Cameraman commentary by Glenn Mitchell, author of A-Z of Silent Film Comedy: An Illustrated Companion
- Spite Marriage commentary by John Bengston, author of "Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton and Jeffrey Vance, author of Buster Keaton Remembered"
The Buster Keaton Collection
Buster Keaton wanted to this film to be a full talkie, but MGM released it with only a musical score and sound effects.