20 Shots: The Navigator (1924)


It’s been bothering me that I’ve been unable to attend Trylon Microcinema’s Buster Keaton series (the best way to see silent films: on a big screen, with an audience, and with live musicians). That, along with tracking down a copy of Rudi Blesh’s magnificent Keaton biography (discovered on The Dancing Image’s regularly updated Movie Bookshelf) inspired me to have a Keaton DVD marathon of my own at Casa Surface Noise. With a treasured copy of The Art of Buster Keaton box set I’ve been able to revisit (or in some cases see for the first time) two reelers including The Playhouse, Cops, and The Frozen North, as well as the features Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., Battling Butler and The Navigator.

The Navigator, despite being marred by the arrival of a bevy of un-PC cannibals at the film’s conclusion, is for the most part a brilliant merger of the minimal (a two character melodrama) and the maximal (the set is an abandoned ocean liner adrift at sea). Through a few twists of fate Rollo Treadway finds himself stranded in the middle of the ocean with Betsy O’Brien (fearlessly played by Kathryn McGuire), the woman who had just turned down his impetuous proposal of marriage. Conspired against by both nature and man made machinery, the thrown-together couple are nevertheless beginning to tame both (in the madly resourceful Keaton manner) when all hell breaks loose, yet fate steps in once again to save the day.


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