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Film / Spite Marriage

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Spite Marriage is a 1929 silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, co-directed by Keaton and Edward Sedgwick.

Buster plays Elmer, a humble worker in a dry cleaners. Elmer has a rather unhealthy fixation on Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian), a stage actress who is playing in a show at the local theater. Elmer attends every performance of Trilby's play Carolina, wearing tuxedos that he has "borrowed" from the dry cleaners, and has also been following Trilby around town. Trilby, for her part, is in a messy relationship with Lionel, the leading man in her theater troupe. When Lionel starts stepping out on Trilby with another actress in the troupe, an enraged Trilby enters into a sudden marriage with adoring Elmer. Comedy ensues.

Spite Marriage was Keaton's second film at MGM, his last silent movie, and the last feature film for which he received a directing credit. Critical opinion is mixed on this film—it's generally regarded to be not as good as Keaton's earlier silent film triumphs, but definitely better than the sound films he'd make for MGM as his career circled down the drain.


  • Blackface: In-universe with a Mammy character in Trilby's play.
  • Call-Back: In the hokey play Carolina, Lionel's character says "A scratch is nothing to a southern gentleman" while defending Trilby's character. At the end, when Trilby notes that Elmer is injured after Elmer has defeated the bad guys, Elmer says this line again.
  • The Coconut Effect: Done in-universe when Trilby's play needs the sound of horse's hooves.
  • Contrived Coincidence: An unlikely chain of events leads to Elmer winding up on a bank robber gang's getaway boat. The bank robbers chuck him into the ocean. Buster is rescued by a charter yacht, and is hired as a sailor. The next morning he finds out that Trilby and Lionel are passengers aboard the yacht.
  • Dirty Coward: Trilby begs Lionel to help her when the yacht catches fire. He shoves her away from him and hops into a lifeboat by himself.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: One at a time, Trilby attracts the bank robbers with a come-hither look. One at a time, they come after her, and one at a time, Buster whacks them on the back of the head with champagne bottles.
  • The Drunken Sailor: One of the sailors on the yacht has emptied the fire extinguisher and filled it up with a stash of alcohol. This leads to disaster when a fire breaks out and Elmer tries to use the extinguisher.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Elmer comes back with a stuffed dog toy for Trilby, only to find out that she has left him after sobering up. There's a close-up shot of the stuffed dog, which even has a tear drawn on one eye.
  • Fainting: Well, Trilby's a woman in a moment of crisis in a silent movie, so naturally she faints. This is why she winds up on the abandoned yacht with Elmer.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Elmer winds up whacking all the bad guys over the head with champagne bottles, except for the cook and the mechanic whom he takes out with, respectively, a rolling pin and a wrench. None seem the worse for wear, and the head bank robber revives in time for the climactic fight with Elmer.
  • Marriage Before Romance: Trilby marries Elmer, whom she barely knows, in a fit of pique. She later falls in love with him after he saves her on the yacht.
  • Mock Millionaire: Elmer probably didn't mean to do this, as he was only borrowing the tuxedos from the laundry in order to dress up to see the play. But Trilby comes to believe he's a millionaire, which is why she impulsively marries him.
  • Neutral Female: In classic neutral female style, Trilby stands by looking worried while Buster engages in a life-or-death brawl with the head bank robber.
  • Shout-Out: A poster behind the scenes at the theater advertises Peggy Pepper in the play "Fires of Desire". Peggy Pepper is the name of Marion Davies' actress character in 1928 MGM comedy Show People.
  • Show Within a Show: Carolina, the unbearably hammy Melodrama that Trilby's troupe is staging at the theater.
  • Stalker with a Crush: He's an entirely benign stalker. But it remains true that Elmer is not just going to every single performance of Carolina, he is also following her around town, and his room is festooned with pictures of her.
  • Title Drop: The scene where a regretful Trilby wakes up after her wedding and drunken spree is introduced with a title card saying "The dawn of a spite marriage."