Combustible Celluloid
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With: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Frederick Vroom
Written by: Clyde Bruckman, Jean C. Havez, Joseph A. Mitchell
Directed by: Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 59
Date: 10/13/1924

The Navigator (1924)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Economy Size

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Note: the bulk of this review was written all the way back in 1995, when I was lucky enough to see this film on the big screen.

What can one say about a Buster Keaton masterpiece that hasn't already been said?

The Navigator looks and feels like it could be one of today's summer mega-blockbusters. It has a great, simple premise that includes the destroying of a huge set. It's endlessly imaginative, funny, inventive, etc. It's one of the greatest movies I have ever seen. It kicked off the Castro theatre's two-week retrospective of one of the cinema's greatest artists, if not its greatest artist.

Buster stars as Rollo Treadway, a spoiled, wealthy layabout who requires a car to cross the street. He decides to propose to the girl across the street, Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire), but she turns him down. Through a complex and silly series of circumstances, they both end up on a giant cruise ship, which is otherwise totally vacant and adrift on the Pacific Ocean. At first, the hugeness of the ship prevents them from finding one another, and when they do, they must use the outsized provisions on the ship to try and survive.

I was impressed by a very elaborate underwater sequence. I didn't think they had the equipment back then, much less the gumption. But Keaton had gumption in buckets. I laughed when he gets his hands dirty, scoops a bucket of water from the ocean floor, washes his hands, then thoughtfully throws the dirty water out. Later he gets into a duel, with Buster holding a swordfish in his arms and battling another swordfish.

All I can say is that I loved it and I laughed and I felt better when I left the theater. Keaton has been analyzed in several books and hundreds of articles, and I have nothing more to add except that I love his work unconditionally; I'll see any of his films, anytime. And that I think he's magic. Just magic. There's no other explanation.

Note: I viewed the 2-reelers The Electric House, One Week and The High Sign at the same showing. All are spectacular.

In 2012, Kino Lorber released a beautiful new Blu-ray and remastered DVD, replacing their old 1999 DVD. Extras include a commentary track by historians Robert Arkus and Yair Solan, an 8-minute featurette, a recording of the song, "Asleep in the Deep," referenced in the film, and a still gallery.
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