BUSTER KEATON BLOGATHON: “THE NAVIGATOR” ( 1924 )
I’m pleased to announce that I’m participating in the “Buster Keaton Blogathon”. Being a fan of silent movies, Buster Keaton has always been one of my favorite silent stars, so it was difficult to choose which subject related to Keaton I wanted to blog about. Most of the topics I originally had in mind were taken, so I chose to do an entry on “The Navigator”. Today was my first viewing of this film, and I don’t usually submit reviews into the website that I work for or blogathons, that I’ve never seen before, but today I thought I would challenge myself and do “The Navigator”.
The story mainly revolves around the two main characters, Rollo Treadway and Betsy O’Brian, ( Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire ) on a commodious five hundred foot yacht. Young Rollo is a wealthy bachelor, who is eager to get married. For a while he’s been infatuated by Betsy, the neighbor that resides across the road. Finally he decides to break out and propose to her, and sends his servant to book their honeymoon on board a sea cruise to Honolulu. Betsy, not feeling the same way about Rollo, rejects his offer. With the cruise scheduled to depart that night, Rollo decides to still go on the ship, but goes without Betsy. After a minor cataclysm, Rollo discovers that he has ended up on the wrong ship, this one called ‘The Navigator’, which is owned by Betsy’s father.
Disaster strikes when ‘The Navigator’ has been sold to another country on the brink of war, and Betsy’s father gets captured and tied up by saboteurs after canvassing the ship. Betsy hears her father pleading for help, and at the last minute boards the vessel herself to try and save him. Soon after ‘The Navigator’ is set afloat, drifting further and further out into the Pacific Ocean. At this stage the two passengers are still incognizant that they are on the same ship as one another, but it doesn’t take long for them to find each other. Stuck in the middle of the ocean, it takes a while for them to become accustomed to life at sea, but after a few weeks they habituate to their current style of living. The gags follow as Rollo comes into the vicinity of disaster. Now Rollo Treadway is forced to dodge debacle after debacle, while he still manages to keep that famous Buster Keaton deadpan expression.
Buster Keaton is the greatest comedian from the silent era of Hollywood, and here in the role as Rollo Treadway he plays a facetious character once again, trying to elude from disaster, which results in gags after gags. Being adept at comedy, Buster was able to execute the humor well into the film, and turn it into slapstick comedy, adding some of his stunt work as usual.
Directed by Donald Crisp, and co directed by Buster Keaton, “The Navigator” is known as one of Keaton’s most hellacious and fast paced films, never lacking comic invention and ingenuity. For people wanting to explore silent movies, I would highly recommend this film as a stepping stone into silent cinema.
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 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 lens from fogging over.
The ship in the movie was actually the USAT Buford, named after prominent Union Civil War cavalry officer and hero of Gettysburg Gen. John T. Buford. The ship had begun life as the S.S. Mississippi for the Atlantic Transport Line in 1890. It was later purchased and renamed by the US government in 1898 and became an army troop transport in the Spanish American War and in WW I. Its most notorious incarnation was as the “Soviet Ark” (or “Red Ark”) when the ship was used to deport 249 political radicals and other “undesirable” aliens, among them the fiery anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, to the Russian SFSR in December, 1919, during the Palmer Raids of the first “Red Scare” period in the U.S.
Quotes from film:
Rollo Treadway: [to the servant] “I think I’ll get married.”
[Servant responds briefly before Rollo turns his attention back to the portrait of Betsy]
Rollo Treadway: [to himself] “Today.”
[Rollo shakes Betsy’s hand and presents her with a bouquet]
Rollo Treadway: “Will you marry me?”
Betsy O’Brien: “Certainly not!”
Buster Keaton: Born Joseph Frank Keaton on October 4th, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas. Died: February 1st, 1966 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Aged: 70.
Kathryn McGuire: Born Kathryn McGuire on December 6th, 1903 in Peoria, Illinois. Died: October 10th, 1978 in Los Angeles, California. Aged: 74.
Written by Crystal Kalyana.