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The Navigator


The Navigator, starring Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire

 The Navigator is considered to be one of Buster Keaton’s best films, and it’s easy to see why.  In The Navigator, Buster Keaton plays the part of Rollo Treadway, a young man who is rich, but without purpose in his life.  He decides to propose to his girlfriend, who rejects his proposal.  Heartbroken, he decides to go on a cruise to help him forget about his trouble.  At the same time, his girlfriend and her father are involved in a problem on a large ship that the father own.  This results in the girlfriend and Buster both being on board the ship as it is set adrift.

The not-quite lovebirds now have to figure out how to survive on this enormous boat.  The boat that neither of them has the slightest clue how to operate.  The boat is, in effect, a giant comedy prop for Buster Keaton to play with.  It is hilariously funny to watch them wandering across the boat, initially each not realizing that the other’s on board.  Later they have trouble with food, since they have no clue how to do the basics of cooking.  Since they have no butler nor chef on board.

There’s troubles to be dealt with, including floating too close to an island of ‘cannibals’ and the need to repair the boat with Buster in a deep sea diving suit.  This leads to quite a bit of comic play, as well as Buster dueling with a swordfish under the sea.  It’s a very funny movie, which my children and I laughed out loud at as we were watching.  And I hope that you do too!

Quotes from The Navigator

[title card]: Rollo Treadway – Heir to the Treadway fortune – a living proof that every family tree must have its sap… Buster Keaton.

[title card]: He had completed all arrangements – except to notify the girl.

[Rollo shakes Betsy’s hand and presents her with a bouquet]
Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton): Will you marry me?
Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire): Certainly not!

Trivia for The Navigator

  • The idea for this film began when Buster Keaton learned of a large passenger ship that was to be scrapped.  Seeing an opportunity, he purchased the ship and proceeded to build a story around this massive prop.
  • 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.  Buster 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 lens from fogging over.

Editorial Review of The Navigator, courtesy of Amazon.com

Buster Keaton revisits his familiar persona of a spoiled society dandy thrown into the surreal world. Young millionaire Rollo Treadway (the sap in the family tree, according to a title card) embarks on a long voyage to nurse his broken heart when his lady love, Kathryn McGuire, turns down his proposal of marriage. Of course he winds up on the wrong dock and boards a derelict ship, which (as luck would have it) McGuire has also boarded. Foreign spies set the ship adrift on the high seas, stranding the pampered heirs, who must now fend for themselves. Keaton indulges in his love of Rube Goldberg contraptions with an elaborate jungle of levers and hatches that turns a giant galley into a veritable automat and dives into 20th-century technology when he dons a diving suit for a hilarious underwater sequence. McGuire makes a marvelous comic partner for Keaton, a gifted physical comedian and a spunky love interest, while the ship plays straight man to their pratfalls and gags, practically coming alive like a haunted house in their first terrified night aboard. The match between man and massive machine proved so successful that Keaton returned to the concept for his two greatest comedies, The General and Steamboat Bill Jr. Also featured are a pair of appropriately aquatic shorts: The Boat, in which Buster packs his family into a leaky houseboat, and The Love Nest, which pits castaway Buster against a despotic captain. –Sean Axmaker

Product Description

Brilliantly exemplifying Buster Keaton’s ability to mine rich humor from the inanimate, “The Navigator” (1924, 65 min.) is a classic of the Golden Age of Comedy. Keaton stars as Rollo Treadway, an inexperienced lad of extraordinary wealth, but little common sense. He finds himself adrift on “The Navigator,” a 500-foot yacht, with no one but an equally naive girl (Kathryn McGuire). Together they face the misadventures that befall them on the high seas, from cannibals to unfamiliar domesticity. As a special feature, this DVD includes two additional shorts demonstrating Keaton’s penchant for maritime mayhem. In “The Boat” (1921, 22 min.), Buster and family set sail aboard the homemade “Damfino,” while in “The Love Nest” (1923, 20 min.), a recently rediscovered lost film, he trades sailboat for U-boat to plumb new depths of hilarity.

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