The Navigator (1924)


(directors: Buster Keaton/Donald Crisp; screenwriters: Clyde Bruckman/Jean C. Havez/Joseph A. Mitchell; cinematographers: Byron Houck/Elgin Lessley; editor: Buster Keaton; music: Robert Israel; cast: Buster Keaton (Rollo Treadway), Frederick Broom (John O’Brien), Kathryn McGuire (Betsy O’Brien), Clarence Burton (spy), H.N. Clugston (spy); Runtime: 60; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Buster Keaton/Joseph M. Schenck; Metro-Goldwyn; 1924-Silent)
“One of the great slapstick comedies from silent comic Buster Keaton.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the great slapstick comedies from silent comic Buster Keaton (“The General”/”Sherlock Jr.”/”Go West”/”Our Hospitality”). Keaton prodded producer Joseph M. Schenck to lease, for $25,000, The Buford–an ocean liner used for the filming of The Sea Hawk (1924)–for this nautical themed film. Actor/director Donald Crisp, usually a number two man in such films as “Birth of a Nation” and “Broken Blossoms,” was brought in to help direct the dramatic scenes. But Crisp proved worthless, as the scenes he shot were so terrible that they were done over by Keaton. The five hundred foot cruiser was leased from the Alaskan-Siberian Navigation Company, and screenwriters Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, and Joseph Mitchell were told to write a script using the large ocean liner as a prop. The film was shot in ten weeks, in Avalon Bay off the coast of Catalina Island. It proved to be Keaton’s biggest commercial success. Its theme of civilized man versus the machine (seen as making life difficult for modern man because we have become so dependent on it and it’s not always reliable), was never used more effectively in cinema.

Buster Keaton plays Rollo, a member of the idle rich, who asks his idle rich girlfriend Betsy (Kathryn McGuire) to marry him. She turns him down. But this does not deter Rollo from going alone on a cruise to Honolulu. Since the cruise leaves in the morning and he never gets up in the morning, he has his valet drive him there at night to board. Betsy also goes there to pick up papers from her ship owner father (Frederick Broom). But he’s kidnapped by foreign agents who don’t want the ship to deliver supplies to their enemy they’re at war with. The spies cut the ship loose from anchor and it drifts to sea with the only two people on board being Betsy and Rollo. It’s absurdly funny as these two pampered members of the elite, who never had to take care of themselves before, now must in order to survive. Their difficulties seem greater because they are on such a giant ship used to catering for at least a thousand passengers. At first the couple wander the huge deserted ship separately until at last they can’t help running into each other. They appear to be without hope, but as the weeks go by they learn how to cope. Their adventure is filled with countless sight gags (perhaps the most gags ever in a film that were funny) from their first crack at cooking in the huge kitchen, Rollo putting on a diving suit to fix a propeller shaft and fight off a devil fish, and then the couple has to fight off cannibals in a nearby tropical island who have kidnapped Betsy. Rollo rescues her by emerging from the water in a diving suit and scaring off the cannibals. When pursued in the water, they are miraculously rescued when they step on a submarine. In the safety of the submarine, the couple will at last kiss for the first time.