johnlink ranks THE NAVIGATOR (1924)

Annually, October becomes horror month on these pages. However, any time a Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin marathon happens on TCM, I DVR a bunch of those and ultimately end up with a month filled with silent comedy. I love that the last three movies on the top of this page are now THE NAVIGATOR starring Keaton, then the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET REMAKE, and then Chaplin’s CIRCUS. I may be the first person on Earth to watch those three movies in that order.

I watched THE NAVIGATOR (1924) on 10.8.11. It was my first viewing of the film.

This story has Keaton as a rich kid who has no particularly developed set of skills, social or otherwise. He wakes up one morning and decides to marry the girl he is in love with. She says no. The next day, through a series of coincidences, the two of them end up on large vessel adrift in the ocean.

The story goes that Keaton discovered that a large boat was going to be destroyed, and he had his studio scoop it up so that he could make a film on it. The result is your typical Keaton hi-jinx, mixed with a few surprises.

A scene in the ship’s kitchen is particularly exceptional. Neither Keaton nor his love (Kathryn McGuire) have any idea what to do. Keaton doesn’t know how to use a can-opener, how to boil an egg, or how to wield a knife. McGuire has no concept of how to make coffee. Together, they struggle through that first meal.

Soon after, the film jumps a few weeks forward. Still adrift, they have developed a system in the kitchen. One of wires and ropes to make the work more convenient. Certainly unorthodox, it shows the detachment these characters have from the way things are usually done. This was done with similar effect in Chaplin’s THE KID a few years prior, when The Tramp discovers a small child and sets up a system of ropes to comfort and feed the sleeping baby.

THE NAVIGATOR misses those weeks we don’t get to see in the jump. Coming in at 70 minutes, this is a typical feature length comedy for its time. By today’s standards it is at least fifteen or twenty minutes short. This film, like Tom Hanks’ CASTAWAY, could stand a stronger middle. Instead, the two characters don’t fall in love as much as they are written to find love.

But if I am making this sound as though I have major issues with this film, that would be overstating my case. I enjoyed this movie a whole lot. An early chase scene between Keaton and McGuire is unique, if unspectacular. The kitchen scene and a subsequent ‘ghost’ scene are effective because we know, as an audience, how ill-equipped these two people are to be on their own. The second kitchen scene is very funny, the deep water diver moment works, though they were noticeably limited in their shot selection, and the tribal scene (with the boat running adrift on a group of cannibals) is a solid climax. A Deus Ex Machina ending is silly, but suitably so.

While this doesn’t have those ‘classic’ Keaton moments such as the house falling, or the train chase, THE NAVIGATOR is beginning to end joy. It is very much in line with the Chaplin feature I viewed the other day, THE CIRCUS. Nothing earth shattering, but certainly a pleasure to see.





~ by johnlink00 on October 8, 2011.

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