Buster Keaton’s last silent, although directed by Edward Sedgwick, is one of his best and possibly his most underrated. In this film, Keaton plays a drycleaner who borrows his customers’ suits to see a play every night because he’s in love with the actress played by Dorothy Sebastian. The actress thinks he’s loaded and when her boyfriend goes for another woman, she throws herself in Keaton’s arms in a spite marriage. Of course it’s a disaster. They see her boyfriend and new beau at a bar and Sebastian goes ballistic in a pretty great scene of drunken fury. Convinced her new marriage will ruin her career, she leaves and Keaton walks out on his life. He ends up on a boat with gangsters, then the same boat Sebastian is on to escape her hell. But they end up stranded together when a fire on the boat leads to everyone abandoning ship but the two of them. They then end up attacked by gangsters and Keaton shows his toughness by beating up the lead gangster and finally knocking him out.
No one thinks of Keaton as an action actor, but many of his films of course had great action in them. Perhaps none was better done than Spite Marriage, as he climbs all over the ship in his desperate fight. The comedy is great, especially when Keaton has to fill in a character on the play one night and dresses himself in the most absurd Civil War facial hair imaginable. Really one of his finest works. And for once he totally avoided racial stereotypes except for a stock blackface character during the play scene for about 1 second, which one could write off as nothing more than typical of actual theater in 1929 if it wasn’t for Keaton’s own racism.