A sort-of precursor to Buster Keaton’s masterpiece (one of them) The General, his 1924 feature The Navigator is bursting at the seams with comic invention as Keaton goes toe-to-toe against machine, and comes out on top, sort of. Co-directed with Donald Crisp, The Navigator is an efficient, imaginative comedy, clocking in at just over an hour and making the most of every minute.
Keaton stars as the wealthy, bored Rollo Treadway, a naïve man who attempts to break out of his stultifying privilege by setting up a wedding to the girl next door, Betsy (Kathryn McGuire), and ironing out all the details before even asking her. Unfortunately, she’s not interested, but Rollo opts to take his honeymoon anyway, boarding a ship set for Honolulu and turning in to his bunk early.
Only he’s not on a ship setting sail for Hawaii; he’s mistakenly boarded a pawn in a game of international intrigue that has one country setting the boat adrift in an attempt to gain the strategic upper hand. And wouldn’t you know it, Betsy also finds herself on the ship, trapped there in a moment of panic when she goes to the shipyard with her magnate father.
Stuck alone on the cavernous vessel without another soul, Rollo and Betsy are forced to fend for themselves — after they discover one another’s existence in a complex ship-spanning pratfall, of course. Neither member of the over-privileged duo is particularly equipped to handle complicated tasks like cooking breakfast or making a bed, but their incompetence gives birth to one hilarious setpiece after another, with Keaton’s mastery of using visual space for maximum comic effect on full display.
While the film’s harrowing climax, featuring Keaton underwater (tinted a striking green) trying to fix a breached hull, is a rightfully renowned moment in silent cinema, one of the film’s greatest moments is an elegantly simple gag featuring a portrait of a gruff sea captain (co-director Crisp), a porthole and a truly terrified Keaton who can’t believe his eyes.
The Blu-ray Disc
The Navigator is presented in 1080p high definition in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Mastered from a 35mm negative and featuring partial color tinting restored according to the original specifications, the transfer is another winner from Kino, offering abundant levels of fine detail and a respectfully hands-off approach to the film stock, which is naturally pocked with damage throughout. While scratches and marks are a constant, the silvery beauty of the celluloid shines through, with solid grayscale separation and a clean, sharp image beneath the damage. Robert Israel’s score can be played in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.
A brief featurette by Bruce Lawton discusses the making of the film and Keaton’s attraction to ships, while historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan expand on the insight with their full-length commentary track. Archival audio of the song “Asleep in the Deep,” which features into a lovely moment in the film, is also included, along with a small stills gallery.
The Bottom Line
Kino continues to impress with their conscientious Blu-ray transfers of their Keaton library.