Judge Jim Thomas kept waiting for Ensign Chekov to show up.
"Will you marry me?"
In a confession only slightly less embarrassing than an English teacher admitting that he or she has never read Hamlet, the court is forced to cop to never having seen a Buster Keaton movie. Having seen Kino's sterling The Navigator (1924) (Blu-ray), I can only quote from Dickens:"Please sir, I want more."
Facts of the Case
Wealthy Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton, The General), in a fit of ennui, decides to get married. He has his servant buy tickets for a honeymoon cruise to Honolulu, then crosses the street to propose to neighbor Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire). Betsy refuses his overture, primarily because he had never spoken to her before. Desolate, Rollo leaves to board the cruise ship, alone and forlorn.
However, Betsy's father has just sold a cargo ship to a small country at war with another country. Agents for that other country arrange to have the ship set adrift. As it happens, Betsy is on board collecting some of her father's things when it is cut loose—as is Rollo, who boarded the abandoned ship by mistake. Now the two of them are adrift at sea, and have to figure out how to survive, overcoming challenges from the mundane—neither knows how to cook—to the more problematic—they're drifting towards an island, and the natives are most assuredly restless.
Keaton's gift for comedy is quite possibly unmatched, even today. Not only was he a genius at conceiving and perform physical gags, but he was just at talented at framing them on camera. When Rollo and Betsy are running round in circles looking for each other, Keaton places the camera so that they can both be in frame at the same time, accentuating the humor. In addition, Keaton doesn't focus exclusively on him; Betsy's character gets a lot of solid comic moments, as well as character moments that demonstrate that she's pretty resourceful in her own right. The two running around the ship is looking for each other is a highlight, but there are several others as well, including a wonderful underwater sequence featuring an encounter with an octopus, and Rollo holding off a swordfish with another swordfish. There's even a stunning visual gag tossed in at the very end.
Unlike other silent stars, Buster "The Great Stone Face" Keaton never plays to the camera; he just stays focused on the matter at hand, whatever that may be. This makes him easier to like; there's never a trace of self-pity, just dogged determination. It also makes the romance between Rollo and Betsy sweeter; we see her coming to appreciate him just as we are. The result is an action-filled comedy that still retains a genial charm toâ€"both characters are likable in their own right.
Technically, the disc is good, but not overwhelmingly so. The MPEG-4 AVC video is good, but a lot of specks and film damage remains, and there are a few missing frames here and there. The film's original color tinting has been restored; night scenes are blue, underwater scenes are green, and most other scenes have a slight sepia tint. Particularly puzzling are shots of the surface of the water, looking directly down from the side of the ship. I suspect that something beyond the usual restoration; there is little if any film damage, and the reflections look almost unearthly clean, so much so that it's somewhat distracting. There's an audio track composed and conducted by Robert Israel; as it is newly recorded, the quality is impeccable, though the music itself is somewhat uninspired.
You get a nice slate of extras, including a commentary track with silent film historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solus. It's good, but there are times when it sounds as though they are reading from a script. A short featurette goes over the history of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Keaton usually co-directed his features, with him handling all the comic business, while the other director (in this case, Donald Crisp) handled everything else. On set, Crisp decided that he wanted to try his hand at directing some of the comedy scenes as well you can easily spot the scenes directed by Crisp—everything is played much more broadly than with Keaton, so that there is some tonal inconsistencies throughout.
The Navigator is the movie that made Keaton a star; though his earlier films are now hailed as classics, at the time they were met with indifference. This film got Keaton a three-year contract, as well as the clout to make a larger picture, his classic The General.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
Review content copyright © 2012 Jim Thomas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.