Cast & Crew
When the Sap, a wealthy young man, sees a black couple in an affectionate embrace, he determines to marry right away. After the wealthy girl who lives across the street refuses him, he decides to take a sea voyage to Honolulu. Following a series of misadventures, the Sap and the girl wind up adrift on the deserted ship and initially find it difficult to fend for themselves. They eventually are able to care for themselves, and after weeks adrift arrive at an island inhabitated by cannibals. The girl is kidnapped by the cannibals, but the boy rescues her by frightening the cannibals by appearing in a diving suit. They are eventually rescued by a submarine and share their first kiss.
H. M. Clugston
The Navigator - Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR: The Ultimate Edition
Keaton's previous feature Sherlock Jr. was an experiment in levels of cinematic reality, both human daydreams and dreams invaded by movie logic. For The Navigator Keaton returned to straight physical comedy, but on a grand scale. He built his gags around a very special prop, a 500-foot steamship that Buster and Co. purchased for $25,000. Keaton had already shown his love of boats in several popular short subjects, and for The Navigator he'd have an entire ship at his disposal.
The resulting film became one of Keaton's biggest hits and he counted it among his personal favorites. The story is purposely kept simple, to better concentrate on ten or so extended set-piece sequences. Aloof millionaire Rollo Treadway (Keaton) is so disconnected from the real world that he tries to bathe without disrobing. He uses his limousine (with chauffeur and footman) to cross the street. Rollo rather thoughtlessly gets the notion to marry, and when his neighbor/girlfriend Betsy (Kathryn McGuire) answers his poker-faced proposal with a short "No", he decides to go on a cruise. Before ten minutes of film have unspooled, Rollo and Betsy find themselves alone on an empty ship, the Navigator, set adrift by foreign spies (who are never seen again). The fun then starts in earnest, with the couple having difficulty finding each other on the vast decks, and trying to cook a meal in facilities meant to serve a thousand people. When night falls Rollo becomes convinced that the ship is haunted. Just as they're getting the hang of life aboard an ocean liner for two, the Navigator runs aground on an island populated by fierce cannibals. When Rollo goes below in a diving suit to free the ship, the natives cut his air hoses and seize Kathryn!
Much of The Navigator can be termed slapstick comedy, yet Buster Keaton's approach can only be described as elegant. His extended comedy sequences are so original in conception and sophisticated in technique that they can hardly be called gags. Rollo and Betsy search for each other on the multi-level decks, climbing stairs and turning corners. They repeatedly just manage to miss each other by a fraction of a second. Keaton slowly accelerates the near-miss hilarity until they're both running at full tilt. When Rollo finally catches up, crashing to the floor next to Kathryn, it's the first time he's seen her since she turned down his proposal. Without hesitation he tries again: "Will you marry me?" After a fruitless attempt to boil an egg in what must be a 50-gallon cauldron, Rollo fabricates a Rube Goldbergian set of devices to help cook their meals.
Keaton gets just as many laughs from the smaller gags. Betsy and Rollo find themselves on the opposite ends of a rope, so that when one of them is safely high and dry the other is being dunked in the ocean. An even funnier instance sees Rollo trying to place an unconscious Betsy in a folding lounge chair, one that seems designed to collapse with every use.
The experts have pointed out that Keaton's Rollo Treadway character has similarities to Bertie, the pampered-rich dunce he played in his first feature appearance, The Saphead. The difference is that Rollo proves a resourceful and creative technical thinker, even if many of his ideas go wrong. Bertie is a clueless dolt saved only by crazy luck. Rollo takes his destiny, foolish as it may be, into his own hands.
Keaton shared directorial credit more than once, but on The Navigator his official co- director Donald Crisp parted company soon into production. Crisp is better known as an actor in a number of John Ford films. None of Crisp's work remains in the picture, but his familiar face shows up in the 'nightmare' sequence as a scowling painting that Rollo thinks is a phantom sailor. Leading lady Kathryn McGuire is a carry-over from Sherlock, Jr.. She proves to be a perfect foil: ladylike in all situations yet capable of taking all manner of physical abuse. One reason the story works so well is that McGuire's Betsy is in her way just as pampered and helpless as Rollo. They're perfectly paired as sweethearts marooned together on this strange cruise to nowhere in particular.
It seems possible that Rollo's fight with the invading cannibals inspired a memorable scene in Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Some of Keaton's films use racial stereotypes in gags that aren't malicious yet haven't aged well. In The Navigator Keaton presents an entire black tribe without resorting to 'darkie' humor. The cannibal king is played by Noble Johnson, a noted friend and associate of both Keaton and Lon Chaney. A decade later Johnson portrayed the imposing native chief in King Kong.
What does a film producer do with a giant ship, once the movie is finished? We're told that Keaton's producer Nicholas Schenck sold it back to the salvage yard they bought it from, for the same amount of money. For sheer production Keaton didn't top this show until his 1926 The General, a masterpiece that allowed him to play with toy trains on a vast comedic scale.
Kino Classics' Blu-ray of The Navigator is a very good presentation of this guaranteed-to-please silent comedy classic. No pristine element for the film has surfaced but the slightly worn Raymond Rohauer collection copy on view has been transferred with consummate care, and spared a digital scrubbing that would have softened edges and dulled the granularity of the original image. Original color tints have been retained. Robert Israel arranged and composed the music score.
Bruce Lawton wrote the making-of featurette for the disc, referencing clips from earlier Keaton short subjects that exploited the comic potential of boats. Robert Arkus and Yair Solan provide the audio commentary. In addition to an image gallery, the disc gives us a vintage 78rpm recording of a song that Rollo plays during the nightmare sequence aboard the boat. Kino's disc producer is Bret Wood, who worked from an earlier edition produced for video by David Shepard.
For more information about The Navigator, visit Kino Lorber. To order The Navigator, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Navigator - Buster Keaton in THE NAVIGATOR: The Ultimate Edition
Havez was the first to propose a scenario: "I want a rich boy and a rich girl who never had to lift a finger, always someone to wait on 'em - houses full of butlers, maids, valets, chauffeurs. I put these two beautiful, spoiled brats - the most helpless people in the world - adrift on a ship, all alone. A dead ship. No lights, no steam." (from Keaton by Rudi Blesh). Keaton bought the premise but the real challenge was to create a satisfactory climax which didn't involve the sinking of The Buford. When he sank the yacht in his two-reeler The Boat, audiences appeared genuinely upset by the destruction so he vowed not to do that again. Instead he came up with an ingenious plot twist involving a deep-sea diving suit, cannibals and a submarine rescue. The first half of the film was no less inventive with Buster and the girl (played by Kathryn McGuire) wandering the huge deserted ship separately, unaware of each other's presence until telltale signs - a discarded cigarette butt, the sound of footsteps - compel them both to search the decks for signs of life.
Since The Navigator opened with a prologue involving spies and foreign intrigue, Keaton decided it would be best to have a director well versed in drama handle this segment so Donald Crisp was hired. Crisp had been directing films since 1914 and had served as D. W. Griffith's assistant on The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Broken Blossoms (1919) but is better known as an actor today, having appeared in such films as Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Lassie, Come Home (1943). Despite being hired to direct the "serious" scenes in The Navigator, Crisp focused instead on gags and comedic material which wasn't his strength or part of his assignment. As a result, most of Crisp's work was reshot after he left the production and the only evidence of his involvement is a brief scene where we see his angry face glaring at Keaton from an oil portrait.
Most of the filming of The Navigator was done in Avalon Bay off the coast of Catalina Island with the cast and crew living on The Buford for the ten week shoot. The famous underwater sequence, where Buster dons a deep-sea diving suit to repair the sinking ship, was first scheduled for shooting in the Riverside municipal pool with Buster doing his own stunt work. This proved to be too problematic (the pool buckled and cracked under the extra water weight) and the waters off Catalina were off limits due to poor visibility during fish spawning season. Instead, the sequence was shot in the freezing waters of Lake Tahoe over a four week period. According to Rudi Blesh in Keaton, "So glacial was the water that Buster could stay down only a few minutes at a time and then had to be hauled up and revived with straight bourbon. Then the extreme cold began impeding the photography. Due to the cameraman's body heat, the glass windows of the diving bell fogged up on the inside. So the bell had to be refrigerated inside by ice piled in the corners. But this also refrigerated the cameramen, who then had to be pulled up with Buster for bourbon. Finally, arctic outfits - fur parkas and gloves - had to be requisitioned for the cameramen."
The Navigator proved to be Keaton's biggest commercial success, firmly establishing him as an important comedy director alongside his peers Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. In fact, the film prefigures Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) with its depiction of a little man at the mercy of machines and massive automation; nowhere is this more evident than the scene where the couple attempt to prepare a breakfast for two in the ship's mechanized kitchen designed for five hundred people. Film critic Pauline Kael wrote that The Navigator was "arguably, Buster Keaton's finest - but amongst the Keaton riches can one be sure? What isn't subject to debate is that this movie....is one of the greatest comedies ever made." She also noted Keaton's delight in "playing with the abstract possibilities of the film image the way a violin virtuoso uses his fiddle." Even Keaton counted The Navigator as a personal favorite among his films, along with The General.
Producer: Buster Keaton, Joseph M. Schenck
Director: Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton
Screenplay: Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell
Cinematography: Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley
Film Editing: 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).
by Jeff Stafford
I think I'll get married...today.- Rollo Treadway
The idea for this film began when Buster Keaton learned of a large passenger ship that was due to be scrapped. Seeing an opportunity, he purchased the ship for a low price and proceeded to build a story around this massive prop.
The real name of the boat used in the movie was 'Buford'. It had been used in the late teens to deport suspected Bolsheviks from the United States, shortly before it was decommissioned.
The underwater scenes of Buster Keaton trying to repair the ship in full diving gear were originally intended to be filmed in the local municipal swimming pool. However, the pool was not deep enough, so higher retaining walls were built around the edges, to hold more water. Unfortunately, the weight of the additional water broke the bottom of the pool, and Keaton had to pay for the repair. The production was moved to Lake Tahoe, where the water was very clear, but so cold that Keaton could only stay under for ten minutes at a time. The camera crew was sent down in a watertight box, with ice packed around the camera to keep the lense from fogging over.
Released in United States 1924
Released in United States 1973
Released in United States March 1976
Released in United States 1924
Released in United States 1973 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Great American Films) November 15 - December 16, 1973.)
Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs: Classic American Clowns) March 18-31, 1976.)