The Navigator (1924 film)
|Directed by||Buster Keaton
|Produced by||Buster Keaton|
|Written by||Clyde Bruckman
Jean C. Havez
Joseph A. Mitchell
|Music by||Robert Israel
|Running time||59 minutes|
Wealthy Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton) suddenly decides to propose to his neighbor across the street, Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire), and sends his servant to book passage for a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu. When Betsy rejects his sudden offer however, he decides to go on the trip anyway, boarding without delay that night. Because the pier number is partially covered, he ends up on the wrong ship, the Navigator, which Betsy's rich father (Frederick Vroom) has just sold to a small country at war.
Agents for the other small nation in the conflict decide to set the ship adrift that same night. When Betsy's father checks up on the ship, he is captured and tied up by the saboteurs. Betsy hears his cry for help and boards the ship to look for him, just before it is cut loose.
The Navigator drifts out into the Pacific Ocean. The two unwitting passengers eventually find each other. At first, they have great difficulty looking after themselves, but adapt after a few weeks. At one point, they sight a navy ship and hoist a brightly colored flag, not realizing it signals that the ship is under quarantine. As a result, the other vessel turns away.
Finally, the ship grounds itself near an inhabited tropical island and springs a leak. While Rollo dons a deep sea diving suit and submerges to patch the hole, the black natives canoe out and take Betsy captive. When Rollo emerges from the ocean, the natives are scared off, enabling him to rescue Betsy and take her back to the ship. The natives return and try to board the ship. After a fierce struggle, Rollo and Betsy try to escape in a small dinghy. It starts to sink, and the natives swiftly overtake them in their canoes. Just when all seems lost, a navy submarine surfaces right underneath them and they are saved.
The Navigator contains some of the most elaborate and well-known stunts by Keaton.
The actual vessel used was the former USAT Buford, a combination passenger/cargo liner that had served as an Army transport during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Prior to The Navigator, the Buford's most controversial service had occurred in 1919-20, during the First Red Scare, when it was used as the "Soviet Ark" to deport 249 "undesirables" from the United States to revolutionary Russia, among them the noted anarchist Emma Goldman. After a voyage to Alaska in the latter half of 1923 and another to the South Seas in early 1924, the Buford was chartered for three months by Buster Keaton and used as the principal set of The Navigator. The Buford had been "discovered" by Keaton's Technical Director Fred Gabourie while scouting ships for another, outside project, The Sea Hawk.
According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, Keaton intended for Donald Crisp to direct the dramatic scenes, leaving him free to concentrate on the comedic ones. However, when Crisp wanted to work on the comedy, Keaton decided to do all the remaining directing himself.
- Buster Keaton as Rollo Treadway
- Frederick Vroom as John O'Brien
- Kathryn McGuire as Betsy O'Brien
- Clarence Burton as Spy
- H.N. Clugston as Spy
- Donald Crisp as Face on picture at porthole
- Noble Johnson as Cannibal chief
When the film was released, Variety said, "Buster Keaton's comedy is spotty. That is to say it's both commonplace and novel, with the latter sufficient to make the picture a laugh getter..." Variety also noted the novelty of Keaton's deep-sea diving costume and settings and praised "an abundance of funny business" in some of the film's underwater scenes.
More recently, film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote that the film "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."
American Film Institute recognition
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs #81
- The Navigator at the Internet Movie Database
- The Navigator is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- The Navigator at AllMovie
- The Navigator at SilentEra