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 naive 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. Beatifully remastered from new HD material.
When a passenger liner is sabotaged, causing it to drift aimlessly into the Pacific Ocean, a pair of upper-class well-to-dos stranded on board are forced to fend for themselves in Buster Keaton's comedy classic 'The Navigator.'
It's a romping good time where the high points are of the unwitting stowaways, played with outrageously boisterous harmony by Keaton and the lovely Kathryn McGuire, struggling to make a simple meal in the kitchen. One thinks ocean water is as good as tap for making coffee while the other sets the breakfast table using cooking utensils. It's a fantastic setup for an even sillier gag destined for bigger laughs a minute later.
Born into the lap of silver-spoon luxury never having to lift a finger for themselves, the duo hilariously make do without their customary indulgence of being served by others since they are the only two on board. From a script Keaton co-wrote with Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell and Clyde Bruckman, the film is a splendidly witty fish-out-of-water tale set in the middle of the ocean, and the two spoiled little fishies gasp for their accustomed wealthy air while turning green from salty coffee and rubbery bacon. In one side-splitting scene, Keaton hoists a yellow flag when the Navy comes near, but doesn't know those colors warn that his ship is under quarantine. After a while, the pair finally figure things out and learn to make decent meals, mostly through the use of contraptions and pulleys.
On land, the two were once next-door neighbors who, as far we know, have seldom spoken to each other. One day, trust fund baby Rollo Treadway (Keaton) is suddenly inspired to get hitched although he has no steady relationship at the moment, so he unexpectedly proposes to the girl across the street, Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn), who of course instantly denies him. In another hysterical gag, Rollo wants to take a long walk alone . . . back to his house . . . which is across the street. To lick his wounds, he decides to go on his prematurely-planned honeymoon cruise but mistakes the Navigator for his ship because of a partially covered sign.
Betsy ends up on the same ship, which is owned by her family yet sold to a country at war, when attempting to rescue her father from the villainous group responsible for the sabotage. Before realizing what's taking place, she finds herself alone floating out to sea. That is until the next morning when she serendipitously bumps into her impulsive neighbor, Rollo.
On the surface, the beginning of the plot seems overly complicated, made even worse by the fact that we never return to it, leaving the criminals and the kidnapping as an unfortunate loose end to an otherwise wonderful comedy. Yet, it's simple enough as a starting off point and for setting things to motion, designed purposefully in order for Keaton to show off his unique brand of physical slapstick comedy. Prior to this production, he purchased the vessel with the intention of someday using it as a prop, so something had to be done with it. The investment paid off as 'The Navigator' went on to become one of Keaton's biggest box-office successes and is often remembered for some of his wildest stunts.
The film does show an incredible array of stunt work and plenty of fantastical imagination, such as the underwater scenes while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and fencing with swordfish. A little later, the scenes where Rollo and Betsy must fend off a tribe of island natives slowly turns into an amazing battle sequence with fireworks, monkeys, and coconut trees. The morning with the pair running all over the ship trying to find each other but just barely missing one another is also an uproarious segment of near misses and complete silliness.
Co-directed with Donald Crisp, Keaton captures each moment with terrific animated energy and frivolity, though it lacks the emotional drama of his other masterpieces. Using the entire vessel as one large prop piece and with every stunt flawlessly performed, 'The Navigator' is nonetheless a classic comedy full of zany gags and lots of side-splitting laughter.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber brings 'The Navigator' to Blu-ray under the distributor's "Kino Classics" label. Housed inside a normal blue keepcase with a sturdy slipcover, the Region Free, BD25 disc starts by going straight to the main menu with a still photo of Buster Keaton and music playing in the background.
According to notes on the back of the box, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'The Navigator' was mastered using a 35mm negative from the collection of Raymond Rohauer, a long-time partner of Keaton's. The results are surprisingly great, given the age and condition of the print. We still have lots of noticeable scratches, dirt and some tears throughout, but they're fairly negligible. There's some slight deterioration around the edges and perforations are visible is a few spots. But on the positive side, the high-def transfer displays well-defined lines of the boat and costumes. Contrast is nicely balanced and stable while black levels are deep and true with excellent shadow detailing. All in all, the movie looks great.
Featuring a new musical score by Robert Israel, this Blu-ray offers two audio options for fans to enjoy: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack or an uncompressed PCM stereo track. Whatever your preference, both tracks are excellent.
Personally, I'm partial to the latter, as it recreates the feel of the film's original exhibition. The music spreads evenly across the entire soundstage with superb fidelity and astounding clarity between the various notes. The mid-range is highly detailed and extensive, creating a wide sense of presence. Low bass is natural and appropriate to the musical accompaniment. The DTS-HD MA track is pretty much identical in terms of quality, except the music noticeably bleeds into the surrounds and creates a slightly more immersive soundfield. All in all, either lossless mix is a great listen and terrific complement to the film.
Buster Keaton's comedy classic 'The Navigator' features a pair of spoiled adults, played by Keaton and Kathryn McGuire, forced to fend for themselves in the middle of the ocean. Though missing some of the dramatic heart of Keaton's other masterpieces, the film is nonetheless a fantastic comedy of zany gags and side-splitting laughter. The Blu-ray arrives with a great audio and video presentation, and supplements are enjoyable enough, making the overall package worth owning. Recommended.