(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
Since the real-life Buster Keaton struggled to maintain more than a shadow in the Talmadge family (into which he’d been married and then all but emasculated in the early 1920’s), it’s not very hard to guess where Keaton got the inspiration for My Wife’s Relations, about an innocent man who is mistakenly married into a family that mostly wants to use him for a punching bag.
Still, the comedy is a bit strained here. In Keaton’s finest works, one gets the impression of an original movie-maker allowed to go to town on his imagination. But his weaker shorts seem like the inspiration for a thousand terrible sitcoms.
An Amazonian woman brings Buster before a judge under the mistaken idea that Buster broke her window. But the judge does not speak English, and as he had been awaiting a couple who planned to get married, he goes ahead and unites Buster and the woman without a second thought – almost as quickly, it seems, as this woman is willing to be resigned to her getting saddled with a husband she never asked for. (Even Seven Chances, a matrimony comedy that Keaton starred in and then spent the rest of his life disowning, presented the unlikely-marriage scenario far more convincingly.)
The movie’s second half is even more mechanical, as Buster’s in-laws come to the mistaken (and again, sitcom-like) conclusion that Buster is due to inherit a fortune, causing them to be uncharacteristically nice to him. Then for no good reason, Buster accidentally dumps a load of yeast into some home-brew, and we can see the climax coming a mile away.
As such, the final chase is typically Keaton-superb – though the best moment comes before the chase, when Buster realizes his in-laws are turning on him, and he quickly draws his coat around him as though the room has taken a huge drop in temperature. It’s a pity the movie didn’t have more such grace notes of character.