The Navigator (1924)
The Navigator (1924)

Genre: Romantic Comedy and Slapstick Running Time: 1 hr.

Release Date: October 13th, 1924 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton Actors: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Frederick Vroom




obody would believe … that the entire lives of a peaceful American boy and girl could be changed by a funny little war between two small countries far across the sea.” And yet, two spies ended up at a Pacific seaport, aiming to prevent the transportation of supplies from the other’s affiliates. When the steamship Navigator is purchased, a plot is fashioned to send it adrift to be destroyed by the rocks and waves. Meanwhile, Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton), heir to the Treadway fortune, lives in luxury but remains brainless and spoiled. When he glimpses a car outside labeled “Just Married,” he decides to get married himself, on a whim, and plans a Hawaiian honeymoon. The problem, however, is that he hasn’t informed a prospective girl.

His main candidate is Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn Maguire), whose father (Fredrick Vroom) was the one who just sold the Navigator. She promptly turns him down, but that doesn’t deter the young socialite from going to the pier for his marital vacation alone. Since he isn’t willing to get up at 10:00 the next morning for its departure, he decides to embark that very night. As luck would have it, Rollo accidentally boards the Navigator, which has been sabotaged by foreign agents – and Betsy likewise gets stranded aboard, where the vessel is soon drifting helplessly, unmanned, at sea.

The initial switcheroo is typical Keaton tomfoolery, as is his character’s design – that of an affluent yet scatterbrained sap. The follow-up routine, involving the two lone passengers exploring and traversing the massive ship without running into one another is exceptional silliness with an eye for proportions and timing, particularly during a wide shot that reveals three decks and the characters’ unintentional inability to make contact. And once they do, it’s with a dash of slapstick, finding Keaton tumbling several floors onto a wooden bench – on which Maguire is perched.

The duo proceed to demonstrate their shared ineptitude for fending for themselves, comically failing to open a can, prepare coffee, and cook food. Even setting the table with proper utensils proves too much to master. Culinary disasters ensue before the feeble survivors grandly founder at other endeavors, including signaling a passing boat, attempting to steer the Navigator, and even deploying a life preserver. Hysterically, their remarkable clumsiness transforms their seabound dwelling into something of a haunted ship: doors open and close on their own, ominous music blares, and firecrackers cause a nighttime ruckus.

Many of the physical gimmicks and stunts are complex, dangerous, and brilliantly arranged. And yet, as they flounder through the act of staying alive, there’s also a sweetness and a pleasant romantic quality to their ordeal; Treadway may be incompetent, but he’s always a gentleman. While this adventure employs Keaton’s standard proficiency with slapstick and comical dunderheadedness, it boasts some incredibly memorable sequences – from shuffling a deck of wet cards, to donning a deep sea diving helmet while still smoking a cigarette, to using a lobster to cut a wire during an underwater repair, to sword-fighting with swordfish. And the penultimate rescue of the damsel in distress from cannibals – and the resulting escape by using Rollo as a flotation device – is outrageously creative (the entirety of the last act is one of Keaton’s most inspired).

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10