The Navigator (Ultimate Edition) (1924) – By James L. Neibaur

Kino-Lorber continues its remastering of Buster Keaton’s classic independent silent features with their release of THE NAVIGATOR, leaving only COLLEGE among his films of this period to be given this treatment.

THE NAVIGATOR continues the nautical theme Keaton explored in his earlier two reelers THE BOAT (1921) and THE LOVE NEST (1922), and would eventually culminate with his 1928 feature STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. Playing an effete, pampered milquetoast whose idea of going for a walk is simply venturing across the street, Keaton investigates several of his most effective cinematic themes: the incongruity of a character and his setting, stunts that seem to defy human physical possibility, and intricate gags and gag situations that exhibit a depth that can only be defined as scientific. THE NAVIGATOR is, quite simply, one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences one can have.

Just the very idea as to how Keaton exhibits the concept of being pampered and rich. A simple gag where Buster walks on the deck of a boat and has his hat blown off shows him casually grabbing another hat, holding on with his cane. His wardrobe is without limitation. When it happens again, the gag is punctuated by the fact that the replacement is a formal top hat; Keaton’s eye for visual gags being consistently wry. Now donning a top hat, his continued walk on the deck takes on another perspective, as the hat now presents him as snootier, more effete, and more distant from the various nautical devices he curiously inspects.

Much of this feature’s earlier footage deals with Buster and his girl’s attempts to confront shipboard domesticity, the sort of which has eluded their sheltered lives. While the woman struggles with coffee and bacon, Buster tries opening a can by bludgeoning it with large knives and cleavers. In this setting, the wealth and privilege is a hindrance. They are forced to adapt to the work of the common. Their gradual adaption to their surroundings is another recurring theme in Keaton’s comedies. In a matter of days, they have rigged a mechanical method in making coffee that is dazzling and effective, exhibiting classic Buster Keaton inventiveness.

The narrative deals with something about saboteurs and the girl’s wealthy father, but as with many of Keaton’s films, that is overshadowed by clever gags and breathtaking stunts. Keaton liked to fake out his audience, so the conclusion where the couple is sinking in a lifeboat and find themselves atop an emerging submarine is typical and brilliant.

Kino-Lorber’s restoration of this fine silent comedy is equal to their previous work. Using the best available pre-print material, being mastered in high definition from a 35mm negative and color-tinted according to the original specifications. The music accompaniment by Robert Israel is typically outstanding.

Great insight is offered in the documentary on the making of THE NAVIGATOR, with film historian Bruch Lawton pointing out how the original tints applied to this high-definition master are taken from existing production records, so as to lend absolute authenticity to the film (for the first time since its original release). The documentary also examines how the largeness of the ship continues a progressive theme in Keaton’s comic structure. Audio commentary by experts Robert Arkus and Yair Solan add greater depth and substance to Keaton’s keen visual eye.

Those who already own a DVD print of THE NAVIGATOR would do well to update it with this high definition release.