22 user 11 critic

Spite Marriage (1929)

Passed | | Comedy | 6 April 1929 (USA)
An unimpressive but well intending man is given the chance to marry a popular actress, of whom he has been a hopeless fan. But what he doesn't realize is that he is being used to make the actress' old flame jealous.


, (uncredited)


(story), (adaptation) (as Ernest S. Pagano) | 2 more credits »

On Disc

at Amazon


Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A love-struck weakling must pretend to be boxer in order to gain respect from the family of the girl he loves.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Snitz Edwards, Sally O'Neil
Go West (1925)
Comedy | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

With little luck at keeping a job in the city a New Yorker tries work in the country and eventually finds his way leading a herd of cattle to the West Coast.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers
College (1927)
Comedy | Drama | Sport
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

To reconcile with his girlfriend, a bookish college student tries to become an athlete.

Directors: James W. Horne, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Anne Cornwall, Flora Bramley
Free and Easy (1930)
Comedy | Musical
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.6/10 X  

A bumbling manager tries to get a small town beauty contest winner into the movies.

Director: Edward Sedgwick
Stars: Buster Keaton, Anita Page, Trixie Friganza
Certificate: Passed Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

A man tries passing off a socially awkward fellow as a Casanova in the hopes of marrying off his would be sister-in-law.

Director: Edward Sedgwick
Stars: Buster Keaton, Charlotte Greenwood, Reginald Denny
Three Ages (1923)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

The misadventures of Buster in three separate historical periods.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Margaret Leahy, Wallace Beery
The Love Nest (1923)
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

In an attempt to forget his lost sweetheart, Buster takes a long trip at sea where he boards a whaling ship with a strict captain.

Directors: Buster Keaton, Edward F. Cline
Stars: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, Virginia Fox
The Navigator (1924)
Action | Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

Two spoiled rich people find themselves trapped on an empty passenger ship.

Directors: Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Frederick Vroom
Hard Luck (1921)
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

Strange things ensue after a young man attempts to take his own life.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts
Seven Chances (1925)
Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries. By 7 p.m. Today.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, T. Roy Barnes
Short | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

After being mistakenly certified as an electrical engineer, Buster is hired to wire a house.

Directors: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton
Comedy | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Directors: John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Keaton


Cast overview:
Elmer Gantry
Trilby Drew
Lionel Benmore
Ethyl Norcrosse
Frederick Nussbaum
Jack Byron ...
Scarzi (as John Byron)


Elmer is a dry cleaner. He is madly in love with stage star Trilby Drew; for each of her 35 performances, he dons someone else's tuxedo and races to the theatre. When Trilby's co-star boyfriend gets engaged to a socialite, she marries Elmer to get even, assuming Elmer is a millionaire (since his clothes are so snazzy.) But she's clearly still in love with her scoundrelous co-star, and her manager makes her leave Elmer, trying to pay him off so the papers don't hear about her marriage to a "cheap pants presser." Can Elmer win her love? Maybe a sea voyage will help. Written by <bletzler@lan.tjhsst.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

6 April 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die unvollkommene Ehe  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


(Turner library print)

Sound Mix:

(musical score and sound effects)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The names of the three actor-characters are references to the Barrymore family: "Lionel Benmore" for Lionel Barrymore and "Ethyl Norcrosse" for his sister, Ethel Barrymore, with the last name of "Trilby Drew" being a reference to Georgiana Drew Barrymore, the mother of Lionel, Ethyl and John Barrymore, and the future namesake of John's granddaughter, Drew Barrymore. See more »


In the dressing-room scene while attempting to trim the hair for his false beard, Elmer accidentally severs the left-hand shoulder strap of his vest and has no time to repair it. When we see him hurriedly changing back into his smart clothes after the performance, both straps are still whole. See more »


Title Card: There are only two cures for love... marriage and suicide.
See more »


Referenced in Speak Easily (1932) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

Problematic Buster, But Still Fine
1 March 2014 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

"Spite Marriage" is a dividing line for Buster Keaton, the film where he began to lose control of his career. It's still a delightful movie with innovative comedy and a moving storyline, once you get past the odd and ill-fitting retooling of Buster's screen image in the first act.

Elmer Gantry (Keaton) runs a laundry, which allows him plenty of time and access to fine clothes for stalking in the guise of a rich suitor stage star Trilby Drew (Dorothy Sebastian). Trilby attaches herself to fellow star player Lionel Benmore (Edward Earle), but when Benmore takes up with a society beauty, Trilby decides to marry Elmer to show him up, to her later regret.

"Spite Marriage" is Keaton's last silent comedy (except for a short called "The Railrodder" he made near the end of his career). It's better than several of the features he made before being picked up by MGM the year before, specifically "College," "Go West," "Three Ages," and "The Saphead." But it falls short of classic Buster, often because of the role played by Buster himself.

For almost all of the first 30 minutes, viewers have to adjust to the novel notion of Buster the idiot. After an abrupt opening, we see Buster fumbling around on horseback, wiggling lovelorn in his seat as Trilby performs on stage, and finally sneaking on stage to make a mess of the show. It is funny, but in a frustrating, jerky way.

Too often the film calls attention to Buster's fish-out-of-water character, particularly when he joins the cast and stumbles over assorted props, to the annoying amusement of the audience. In his earlier films, Buster was a stoic victim of mayhem, rather than producing it himself. This made the comedy work without lessening the character. Here, you can't help but emphasize with the theatrical agent who moans: "Shoot him! They'll think it's part of the act!"

There are also odd bits of sympathy trolling. We see him bring her a stuffed dog doll with a tear running down one eye. After he discovers Trilby has left him, the camera lingers on the doll one last time, as an overt nod to Elmer's pitiful state. It's like something out of Harry Langdon.

But there are compensations throughout the early part. Trilby's play, "Carolina," is a wonderful send-up of theatrical conventions. When Lionel makes his entrance as a wounded fugitive, he stops to acknowledge the applause. "A scratch is nothing to a Southern gentleman," he tells Trilby's character, a goofy line that gets a nifty callback late in the film.

Sebastian is a big part of why "Spite Marriage" works as well as it does. For the first time, I watched a Keaton feature not pining for Sybil Seely. Trilby is no gentle flower, but rather a scheming, petty character who uses Elmer's affection for her own ends. As an ex-spite boyfriend, I could relate to this. Most important, she is very funny, especially in a scene in a speakeasy where she gets drunk and loses her cool when she sees Lionel with his new babe. It's a great use of Buster's expressionless manner by director Edward Sedgwick and the MGM team, playing it off Sebastian's scowling and histrionics. She also takes a fall as well as Buster, which helps.

The movie's most famous scene uses her athleticism to splendid effect, where he tries to put his unconscious bride to bed. He tries to sit her on a chair, only to have her roll off. As other reviewers here note, it's easy to ignore the effort she must put forth, keeping Buster hopping without apparently moving a muscle.

The finale, aboard a yacht, is the film's best sequence. Ironically, as historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance note in their helpful DVD commentary, this was one part of the movie Buster didn't want to do, probably concerned he was repeating "The Navigator." But "Spite Marriage" takes the same idea in different directions, and most importantly, ramps up the laughter while giving us Buster in take-charge form. A key bit of business involves his wearing a captain's hat, which seems to signal a sense of newfound authority for the performer.

Alas, it was not to be. Buster's subsequent work for MGM, while quite profitable, would run the gamut from weak to awful, with Buster himself anything but in charge. "Spite Marriage," with its misplaced emphasis on poor, stupid Elmer, would inaugurate this trend, but it's more of a piece with his days as silent comedy's master clown. Keep this in mind, and you will have a good time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
Some good moments, but... theinnerlight87
Elmer Gantry...? mjneu59
punning reference? rayincumbria
Discuss Spite Marriage (1929) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page

Create a character page for: