The Navigator (Ultimate Edition) (1924) – By Duane L. Martin

Pampered rich boy Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton) has decided to marry his sweetheart Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire). He had his butler purchase tickets for them to go on a ship for their honeymoon, but when she turned down his marriage proposal, he went off on his own in a fit of depression, determined to take the trip on his own to get away for a while.

That night, he got on board the ship, but unfortunately it was the wrong ship, and there was no one on board. This particular ship also happened to belong to Betsy’s father, and she also happened to go down there that night to look for him, as he was meeting with someone to sell the ship to them. So now the two found themselves onboard the same empty ship, neither knowing the other was there. This is where the fun begins. See, Betsy’s father John (Frederick Vroom) had sold the ship to one of two warring countries who was going to use it for their operations. The other country sent spies there to do a way with the ship, and as such, they came up with a plan to send the empty ship out to sea, where it would drift until ended up grounded and destroyed on the rocks somewhere. That way it would look like an accident and they could escape without detection. Unbeknownst to the spies however, Rollo and Betsy were on board when they sent it drifting out to sea.

Once the two discovered each other on board, they had to work together to survive and make the best of it, since neither of them had any idea how to operate the ship so they could get it back to the docks. They rummaged for food, and had a generally hard time figuring things out, but eventually worked out a system of little inventions and ways of working together that made things easier for them. Unfortunately, that only lasted until the ship bottomed out near an island full of cannibals. Now Rollo and Betsy had to use all their wits to survive.

There are a lot of silent comedians in the archives of film history. When you ask people who their favorites are, you will often hear names like Charlie Chaplain, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd among many others. For me, Buster Keaton has always been my favorite. I think it has to do with how stone faced he is, no matter what’s going on or how desperate he becomes, there’s always this sense that he’s not really sure what’s going on or why it’s happening. This makes you pull for him even more, because in a way you almost feel sorry for him that he can be so clueless, while at the same time admiring him for his ingenuity in handling whatever comes along.

Basically, you can’t go wrong with a Buster Keaton film. No matter which one you see, you’re going to enjoy it. Some are funnier and more outrageous than others, but you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time. This film is no exception. Keaton enjoyed using boats as comedic settings, and they made great use of the setting in this film. From the galley gags where they tried to make themselves some food and had to figure out how to cook eggs, open cans and make coffee, to the diving scene, where he had to don a complete diving suit so that he could go underwater to repair a leak in the boat, the sight gags and manic slapstick all make for a very fun ride. For me, one of the funniest scenes involved Rollo trying to get a passed out Betsy into a deck chair that kept collapsing. Kathryn McGuire never flinched as the chair collapsed and Buster was picking her up and rolling her around, trying to get it back up into position. It takes more than being brilliant at what you do to make a great film. It also takes surrounding yourself with a cast that can measure up, and she really impressed me in that scene. There are a lot of supporting actors who appeared in those old silent comedies, especially the women, who never got the proper recognition for their incredible talents, as they are often overshadowed by the star, which in this case is Keaton.

When you watch these films, you realize just how talented and professional people like Buster Keaton are, but you’ll also notice things that lift up that veil a bit and remind you that underneath, there was a serious amount of risk in making these types of films. For example, in one scene, Buster walks right into the middle of a bunch of fireworks, including roman candles, going off on the ship. If you watch that scene closely, you’ll see that one of the shots from a roman candle, actually hits him on the shoulder. If that shot had been just a mere six inches higher, it would have either hit him in the ear or on his cheek, which would have burned him severely, possibly even lighting his hair on fire. These were the kinds of risks that actors back then took to achieve the perfect scene. I’ve literally cringed at many of the things Keaton has done in his films, and my mind has boggled at how he does it. The professionalism and desire to entertain are things that I’ve always respected about him, and when people ask me who my favorite silent comedian is, my answer will always be, Buster Keaton.

This new ultimate edition blu-ray release of the film from Kino Lorber, is a brilliant restoration in HD, and it looks absolutely spectacular, especially considering the film is now 88 years old. The music, arranged and composed by Robert Israel, is a perfect accompaniment to this wonderful film. There is also a new DVD release of the ultimate edition, but I would highly recommend getting the blu-ray, as natively, it will be the best quality.

This release of the film contains the following special features:

Mastered in HD from a 35mm negative from the Raymond Rohauer Collection, color-tinted according to the original specifications.

Music arranged and composed by Robert Israel, in 2.0 stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.

Featurette written by film historian Bruce Lawton, about the making of The Navigator and Keaton’s fascination with boats as sources of comedy.

Audio commentary by silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan.

Photo gallery.

We are truly blessed to live in an age where these wonderful old films can be preserved for all time in a digital format. Not only preserved, but restored. Unfortunately, there have been countless films lost to the ages because the film has either rotted away or been otherwise destroyed, so every film that is preserved, restored and released by wonderful companies like Kino Lorber is a victory, not only for us, but for our culture and our history. Even if you own this film from Kino’s previous DVD release, I’d highly recommend grabbing yourself a copy of this new blu-ray release. It’s absolutely wonderful, and these films should always be experienced in the highest quality possible. I am absolutely delighted to see Kino releasing the Buster Keaton collection on blu-ray, and even more delighted to be able to recommend it to you.

If you’d like to find out more about this release, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here, and if you would like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get this new blu-ray or DVD releases from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.