Two Cures for Love

In Buster Keaton’s last silent feature before talkies took over, he celebrates his comedy brand. Each piece is there: a love triangle, mistaken identity, broken romance, and Keaton playing the gentle, passive hero.

Looking back on Spite Marriage, it’s an unaware send-off to days of simple fame and celebrity. Keaton’s Elmer fawns for a stage star, his potential bride more mystery than friend. Screen names were always part of Hollywood’s allure; Keaton here reverses his own circumstances, now a fan rather than public personality. Yet, he’s still just as comfortable in this role.

It’s not the money, it’s the man, and Keaton, unquestionably, represented the best of them

As with The General, Spite Marriage treats the Old South as something to eulogize. Spite Marriage wasn’t the only case, but black face performers and on-stage storylines bemoan the North. It’s unfortunate, if of its time. Keaton makes the best of it though, earning a part in a play on chance, playing a soldier with comic mastery: fumbling the pace, knocking over decorations, and accidentally dropping the curtain mid-act. Though MGM required control, this bit is undeniably Keaton.

There’s the segmented style too. Keaton at dinner, Keaton with a drunk wife, Keaton at sea (again). Each reaches a safe, innocent comedy pinnacle, covered in possibilities and it seems the silent star found them all. Even at the core, the story deals in classism, Elmer a poor dry cleaner, stealing/borrowing suits to impress women before returning to his simple life. As his real world stardom and wealth grew, the thing Keaton never let go of was his ability to play the every man. He spoke for anyone spending a nickel or a dime to support his work; corporate structure didn’t change his social satires.

Stunt doubles takeover on occasion (MGM worried about their investment), losing a little honesty in Keaton’s performance, but that’s minimal harm to Spite Marriage. In the finale, the pratfalls take over, Elmer forced to knock out an entire crew onboard a ship. Much as it seems that conking people on head repetitively might lose its luster, not here. Formulated gags make each bop a titanic, unexpected struggle, conveying Keaton’s signature calm and wit. He gets the girl, of course, but in doing so, she rejects the brutish, rich alpha male. It’s not the money, it’s the man, and Keaton, unquestionably, represented the best of them.

Video

Piggybacking on Criterion’s The Cameraman release, the disc treats Spite Marriage as an extra. Odd marketing choice – why not sell this as a two-pack? Anyway, Criterion delivers a restored 2K master from a lesser (if the only surviving) print. Occasionally heavy damage appears as vertical scratches, but clean-up carefully suppresses countless minor nicks and scrapes. The process doesn’t dilute film grain, still noticeable and well formed. Spite Marriage doesn’t endure lesser compression, even as this double bill’s B-side.

Hot contrast and light black levels only capture a limited gray scale. Spite Marriage can give only so much 90+ years on. Thankfully, resolution shows natural, organic detail. Definition resolves minutiae in close or at distance. Precise textures come through where possible, from a fake beard to ocean waves.

Audio

If there’s skimping, it’s sound – compressed Dolby Digital presents the score, a minor gripe, and barely relevant. The older music carries a little static while playing, the only notable age. This track keeps some sound effects (like clapping), transferred from original Vitaphone recordings.

Extra

With an Inception-esque touch, there’s extra on the extra: Authors John Bengston and Jeffrey Vance pair for a commentary track.

Spite Marriage
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

In his final feature length silent, Buster Keaton graces Spite Marriage with all of his classic storytelling methods and comic mastery.

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