Said to be Buster Keaton’s favorite of his own films (and the definite precursor to his celebrated masterpiece The General), 1924’s The Navigator is proof positive that Keaton was an ingenious comedic talent. No silent movement from his tiny frame is unnecessary in this comedy classic. Perfectly timed and perfectly executed, The Navigator is a statement of one man’s perfectly-honed skill at physical comedy and expression. Written by Clyde Bruckman, Keaton’s romp through the nautical world is a supreme splash as it makes its debut on a newly remastered transfer courtesy of Kino Classics.
Built around an abandoned battleship, The Navigator is the story of Rollo Treadway (Keaton), a spoiled rich kid who decides one day, out of sheer boredom, to propose to his neighbor. Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire) refuses the offer but Rollo decides to go on the honeymoon anyway. Being the nitwit that he is, he boards the wrong boat, the Navigator, which Betsy's father (Frederick Vroom) has just sold to a small country at war. Through a tricky convergence of plot points involving rival factions of international spies and a kidnapping, Rollo and the woman who refused his hand in marriage eventually find each other stranded on an otherwise deserted ocean liner as it makes its way toward a tropical island overrun by cannibals.
The Navigator was highly successful upon its original release and there’s every reason on-screen to see why. The aquatic episodes are marvelously executed. Keaton and his writing collaborators mine every sort of incident that can happen aboard an abandoned luxury liner for hilarity and believability. Something the old two-reelers he made never required. But having an about to be scrapped ocean liner as your set opened the door for gags and creativity.
During this production is the ironic fate of its co-director, Donald Crisp. Known for providing good dramatic undertones, Keaton, still independently producing his own material, hired the director solely to work on the dramatic aspects of the movie while Keaton focused on the comedy. Crisp, wanting in on the fun, quickly found himself walking the plank when he decided he also was a gag man and started overbalancing the film with more gags and less drama; an upset in the balance Keaton worked tirelessly to avoid with all of his productions. Keaton re-cut and re-worked much of what Crisp shot and managed to exploit Crisp’s menacing mug as a captain’s portrait with the haunted ghost ship gag.
The perpetually in-motion set is a rollicking good time for both Keaton and McGuire and keeps the audience engaged in a battle of the furies. But it is in their discovery of each other onboard the boat, after living separately, which provides the real charm. In what can only be described as an accidental tango of hide-and-seek, the two go back and forth across the boat (as the only passengers aboard) and never run into each other until the crescendo sees Keaton practically smashing his co-star as he falls through the ceiling.
Complete with green-tinted undersea sequences, The Navigator fails to disappoint Keaton’s fans. Yes, even the vastness of the open sea is exploited as Keaton must dive below the surface to fix a hole in the boat and do battle with a nosy swordfish, a lobster, and an octopus. Yes, even in The Navigator, Keaton does surreal with the best of them.
Going on a Honeymoon without the bride should never be this much fun. Leave it to Buster Keaton is make it exactly that. The Navigator is one to own.
MPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
Runtime: 59 mins
Director: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp
Writer: Clyde Bruckman & Joseph A. Mitchell and Jean C. Havez
Cast: Buster Keaton; Kathryn McGuire; Federick Vroom
Genre: Classic | Silent | Comedy
Tagline: The Navigator
Memorable Movie Quote: "Rollo Treadway - Heir to the Treadway fortune - a living proof that every family tree must have its sap... Buster Keaton."
Distributor: Buster Keaton Productions
Home Video Distributor: Kino Video
Release Date: October 13, 1924
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 4, 2012
Synopsis: Two spoiled rich people find themselves trapped on an empty passenger ship.
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - September 4, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Audio: Music: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; Music: LPCM 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
Presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, this high-definition, AVC/MPEG4-1080p transfer cleans up the The Navigator nicely. The remastering job simply cannot fully restore the film to its pristine 1924 condition but it does manage to bring the film into a shape - color tints and all - that it hasn’t been in quite some time. The visible scratches and periodic flickers throughout the restoration are to be expected. Considering the film's age and the decades of neglect the original print suffered, Kino Classics did an incredibly sound restoration. The soundtrack, composed and performed by Robert Israel, is available here as either uncompressed PCM 2.0 stereo or DTS-MA 5.1 surround.
- Finally, we get a Kino Keaton-related commentary. Two well-known silent film historians, Robert Arkus and Yair Solan, provide the easy-going commentary track for this release. They inform and discuss in a relaxed back-and-forth fashion the making of the film, all things Keaton, the actors, the history of the ship used in the film, and discuss the whole women as props argument in Keaton’s films.
Well, there’s no booklet and no written essay concerning the making of the film but there is a marvelously detailed visual essay written and narrated by film historian Bruce Lawton. In this essay, Lawton tells of the some of the behind the scenes happenings about the movie and fills viewers in on the film’s place in the Keaton Canon. Also included in the release is an interesting supplement that is referenced in the movie but appears on the release in the form of audio from the original 78 rpm record. It’s Wilfred Glenn performing “Asleep at the Wheel” and it hails from 1913. As the tune plays, information about its relationship within the movie loads. Also included is a visual gallery of sixteen stills from the shoot.
- Bruce Lawton Visual Essay (9 min)
- "Asleep in the Deep" performed by Wilfred Glenn (3 min)
- 16 Photographic Stills