Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton) is a millionaire heir whose pampered lifestyle has left him clueless about real life, as he is encased in a bubble of privilege thanks to his fortune. One morning, after breakfast, he notices outside a couple of newlyweds driving down the street, rapturously in love, and he decides he wants to get married. Today. He knows who he wants to wed: Betsy (Kathryn McGuire), the girl across the street, daughter of the man who owns a shipping line, but when he has his butler drive him over the road, he introduces himself and is shocked and dismayed that she turns him down flat. Dejected, he returns home, but he has the tickets to the honeymoon cruise already, so tears one up and makes plans to use the other - he will board the ship tonight!
The Navigator was released the year Buster Keaton also released his masterpiece, Sherlock Jr, so while it has its fans, as all his silent features did, it tends to pale in comparison to one of the greatest films ever made, understandably. But if this was not as inventive, and more goofy than outright genius, that was not to say it didn't contain pleasures, as this was amusing in a way that newcomers to silent comedy might believe it to be representative of. Buster dialled back his derring-do as far as the stunts went, though he did take a dive off the deck of the titular ship which looks exceedingly dangerous, but his main setpiece and the one you could tell he was most enthusiastic about was the underwater sequence.
Only Buster would have thought it a great idea to stage an entire series of gags under the sea, and not just present it with effects, but genuinely go under the sea to do them. Even so, those gags are not roll around on the floor funny, they're more charming like the swordfight with (what else?) the swordfish, or tackling an errant octopus tentacle which spray ink at him, but as ever the man's willingness to go the extra mile for a laugh marked him out as one of the best. The reason he is at sea in the first place is to do with a war going on between two unnamed countries, nothing really important but the spies are the ones who set the Navigator out on the water, with Betsy onboard as well. After a few near misses, the two meet up and are soon meeting minds over how to make the best of the situation - unfortunately, Betsy is pampered and clueless as well.
The sequence where they try to make themselves a meal was a nice bit of ridiculousness - coffee made with about three beans and seawater, for instance, which naturally tastes terrible, but in a neat turn after a few weeks on the ocean they are getting the hang of being adrift, indicating they were not necessarily dummies, they simply needed the opportunities to work out the best courses of action. One thing that does date the film is the grand finale, where Rollo and Betsy are threatened by a nearby tribe of island cannibals; although this was the twenties, it does seem like a set up from the Victorian era of explorer humour (there was such a thing), though it is good to see the pioneering African American actor Noble Johnson as their leader - he would be the custodian of King Kong a few years later. It was too goodnatured to be offensive, however, everything in the service of being very silly.
[Eureka release this as part of their Buster Keaton: 3 Films Vol 2 box set - The Navigator, Seven Chances and Battling Butler - and here are the features:
• Limited Edition Hardbound Slipcase [3000 copies ONLY]
• 1080p presentations of all three films from the Cohen Film Collection's stunning 4K restorations, with musical scores composed and conducted by Robert Israel
• The Navigator - Audio commentary by silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan
• Seven Chances - Brand new audio commentary by film historian Bruce Lawton
• New and exclusive video essay by David Cairns covering all three films
• The Navigator - A short documentary on the making of the film and Keaton’s fascination with boats as sources of comedy, by film historian Bruce Lawton
• Buster Keaton & Irwin Allen audio interview from 1945 [6 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Arthur Friedman audio interview from 1956 [32 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Robert Franklin audio interview from 1958 [56 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Herbert Feinstein audio interview from 1960 [48 mins]
• Buster Keaton & Studs Terkel audio interview from 1960 [38 mins]
• What! No Spinach? (1926, dir. Harry Sweet) [19 mins] - Rarely seen comedy short by American actor / director Harry Sweet, that riffs on a number of elements from Seven Chances
• PLUS: A LIMITED EDITION [3000 copies ONLY] 60-PAGE perfect bound collector's book featuring new writing by Imogen Sara Smith and Philip Kemp; and a selection of archival writing and imagery.]