The Navigator (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
September 3, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“The Navigator” is a film full of vaudeville gags, hilarious action and it’s also a film that shows us why Buster Keaton is definitely one of the kings of silent comedy. “The Navigator” is highly recommended!
TITLE: The Navigator
FILM RELEASE: 1924
DURATION: 60 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color-tinted, 1:33:1, 1080p High Definition
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Directed by Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton
Story by Clyde Bruckman, Joseph A. Mitchell, Jean C. Havez
Produced by Buster Keaton
Executive Producer: Joseph M. Schenck
Music by Robert Israel (1995)
Cinematography by Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley
Edited by Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton as Rollo Treadway
Kathryn McGuire as Betsy O’Brien
Frederick Vroom as John O’Brien
Brilliantly exemplifying Buster Keaton’s ability to mime rich humor from the inanimate, The Navigator is a classic of the Golden Age of Comedy, centered on and about a single extraordinary prop: an immense five hundred-foot yacht.
In a return to the “pampered youth” role he had played in The Saphead (and would return to in Battling Butler), Keaton stars as Rollo Treadway, an inexperienced lad of extraordinary wealth — and surprisingly little common sense — who finds himself adrift on “The Navigator” with no one else on board except an equally naïve girl (Kathryn McGuire). After discovering each other’s presence in an ingenious ballet of unintentional hide-and-seek, the couple resourcefully fashion a home for themselves aboard the derelict boat, in spite of their unfamiliarity with the tools of domesticity.
They then embark on a series of misadventures on the ocean floor (where Rollo in a diving suit must parry the attacks of an aggressive swordfish) and upon the high seas, surrounded by a fleet of menacing cannibals, where the film reaches its explosively funny climax, with the aid of a crate of rocket flares.
There are a few films that Buster Keaton calls his favorites and his 1924 film “The Navigator” was not only one of them, it was also his most successful film in the box office.
And once again, Buster Keaton shows the audience why he is one of the silent kings of comedy, from his wonderful physical comedy to vaudeville gags, there is no doubt that “The Navigator” was also an expensive film as he bought an actual vessel (the USAT Buford, a passenger liner that served in World War I) for the film.
While headlining the film, it was also feature actress Kathryn McGuire, best known as one of Mack Sennet’s bathing suit and dancing beauties, having appeared in Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” that same year, her performance in “The Navigator” will be her most memorable role of her career.
Beloved by many silent film fans, especially Buster Keaton fans, prior to 1995, “The Navigator” was one of the most scarce Buster Keaton feature length film to find on video. But now it has become a fan favorite and now, “The Navigator” will now receive it’s Blu-ray release courtesy of Kino Lorber in Sept. 2012.
“The Navigator” begins with a group of men who are upset that the wealthy John O’Brien (portrayed by Frederick Vroom) has sold the vessel, “The Navigator” to a small country at war. The group of men from the opposing small nation at war decides that they must do all they can to make sure the other nation gains access to the ship, by sabotaging it.
Meanwhile, the wealthy Rollo Treadway (portrayed by Buster Keaton) looks out the window and sees a happily married couple. So, Rollo decides that he wants to marry his neighbor Betsy O’Brien (portrayed by Kathryn McGuire), a woman that he has loved. He tells his servant that he is getting married today and to book a honeymoon sea cruise to Honolulu.
Visiting Betsy, he proposes to her and is immediately rejected.
Dejected, Rollo decides to go on the honeymoon sea cruise by himself and boards “The Navigator”.
Unbeknown to Rollo, the saboteurs have kidnapped the captain of the ship. Meanwhile, later that night, Betsy and her father quickly make a stop to visit “The Navigator” but while her father is going to check it, the saboteurs kidnap him. As Betsy hears her father scream for help, she is pursued and she runs up to “The Navigator” which the saboteurs have since put the ship to leave port by itself. And she finds herself stuck on “The Navigator”.
Later in the morning, thinking that she is the only one in the ship. Rollo who is also aboard, goes to get some breakfast but shocked that he is not being served. He hears a woman screaming for help and through several misses between both he and Betsy, they finally find each other.
But to their chagrin, they are the only one on the boat and are lost in sea. With no knowledge of how to control the ship, the two try to make themselves useful by trying to prepare their own food. But being the wealthy people that they are and not knowing how to make their own food, their first chance at preparing coffee and dinner is a failure.
Their first night on the ship is also a failure as they think the ship is haunted and when they go to use a candle inside the ship, they are unaware that the candles are actually Roman candles and fireworks. Suffice to say, their first night was also a failure.
When a nearby ship comes near them, feeling they would be rescued, the two decide to put a yellow flag up on the ship in hopes they would get notice. But instead, the yellow flag gives the people on the other ship a signal that their ship is being quarantined.
With so many failures and the two drifting in the middle of the sea on a vessel they just don’t understand, Rollo and Betsy must find a way to work together as a team and survive on “The Navigator”. Can they do it?
“The Navigator” is presented in 1080p High Definition and was remastered in HD from a 35mm negative from the Raymond Rohauer Collection and was color-tinted according to the original specifications. As one can expect from a film that is nearly 90-years old, you’re going to see some scratches. But it’s a film that is not marred by nitrate damage, nor is it a film that is blurry or has excess flickering. The film is well-contrast and the color-tinting was also good in showing viewers that blue means night, green is underwater, etc.
In fact, “The Navigator” looks very good for a film for its age, not as pristine as “The General” but still, the film looks amazing in HD.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Navigator” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo utilizing Robert Israel’s well-known musical score. Having owned the original DVD, Israel’s score sounds amazing in HD. While not a musically immersive soundtrack, the dynamic range is great and the music does feel as if it comes alive hearing it via lossless. Crystal clear music, I was impressed by how great the music sounds on Blu-ray.
“The Navigator” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio comemntary by silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan.
- Featurette – (8:50) A featurette narrated by Bruce Lawton titled “Of Buster, Boats, Other Seacraft and Working on the Navigator”. The featurette goes into Keaton’s physical comedy and details on the underwater scenes.
- Asleep in the Deep – (3:15) The actual recording of the 78rpm disc of Wilfred Glenn’s song “Asleep in the Deep”.
- Gallery – Featuring a gallery of 16 images from “The Navigator” courtesy of Robert Arkin.
“The Navigator” comes with a slipcase.
“The Navigator” is a film that definitely shows the audience why Buster Keaton is one of the three kings of silent comedy.
The film not only offers wonderful physical and risky comedy that Keaton is best known for, the amount of gags and having an actress such as Kathryn McGuire, also willing to take part in the physical comedy leads to the film’s efficacy.
Although only 60 minutes long, to describe this film and say that it features a man and woman stranded on a ship in the middle of nowhere and features the duo overcoming what they think is a haunted ship, not knowing how to prepare their own meals, facing cannibals and Keaton taking on a swordfish and octopus may read as if this film is kitsch but the way its presented is hilarious, fun and a film that features a string of vaudeville gags, and Keaton’s understanding of how comedy works, makes this film so enjoyable and entertaining, but most importantly, accessible to young and old.
The chemistry between Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire is fantastic! They both need each other as if one is near harm, the other is their to save them. Both are privileged, wealthy young adults who probably have never cooked a meal, have never had to do any form of manual labor until they get stuck on the ship and it’s just fun to see how these two gradually get to understand their surroundings.
The battle against the cannibals is one of the most hilarious but also exciting moments I have seen Buster Keaton in. Yes, he was amazing in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” and “The General” and has risked his life in many films, but for “The Navigator”, to see the characters of Rollo and Betsy taking on dozens of cannibals was so fun to watch because of the number of people involved.
I watched this film with my 9-year-old and he was laughing hard along with me while watching this film. And I know I am not alone. Many times I have heard from silent film fans how they have introduced their children or spouses to a Keaton film and “The Navigator” was a film that they used to cajole a friend or family member into enjoying silent film, especially Buster Keaton films.
While “The Navigator” was one of Keaton’s favorite films, it is important to note that the film was supposed to have an unhappy ending (as mentioned in Rudi Blesh’s 1974 biography “Keaton”), but Keaton knowing that his comedy films should not have any of the main characters dying, his films are primarily positive and upbeat with the happy ending. Personally, I don’t know if I can even imagine a tragic ending for “The Navigator” as it would have possibly ruined the film for me.
As for the Blu-ray release, “The Navigator” looks very good on Blu-ray. While one should not expect pristine-quality such as “The General”, while the film does have its fair share of scratches and dust (note: A lot of films on nitrate were “rescued” and transferred to another negative with scratches and dust intact to preserve the film, not knowing in the future that people would care for clean prints), but the film looks very good on Blu-ray. And the same can be said for its lossless soundtrack featuring Robert Israel’s score, crystal clear…I was impressed by how beautiful the music sounds in HD (considering I own the previous Kino DVD release).
As for special features, I’m glad that an audio commentary was included. Both film historians, Robert Arkus and Yair Solan are very knowledgeable about Keaton and the talent featured in the film. Also, for Kino to find the recording of Wilfred Glenn’s “Asleep in the Deep” was a nice touch. As well as Bruce Lawton’s featurette, on more behind-the-scenes information on the making of the underwater scene. And you also get over a dozen stills via the gallery
Overall, “The Navigator” is a film that I have waited to come out on Blu-ray. Not only is this a fantastic film to introduce people to silent comedy but it’s a entertaining, upbeat and fun Buster Keaton film that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. I loved the film! My nine-year-old loved it! “The Navigator” is a film full of vaudeville gags, hilarious action and it’s also a film that shows us why Buster Keaton is definitely one of the kings of silent comedy.
“The Navigator” is highly recommended!
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