Buster Keaton’s most popular vehicle in his own day, and said to be Keaton’s favorite of his own films, The Navigator isn’t as sophisticated and satisfying as his best work (e.g., The General), but it’s still brilliant slapstick comedy, with a rousing third act and a slam-bang climax.
In a familiar Keatonesque setup, the star plays a spoiled rich twit who seeks solace from a rejected marriage proposal in a long sea voyage. Then — through a complicated convergence of plot points involving rival factions of international spies, the sale of a cruise ship, and a mixup of pier numbers — Keaton and his intended (Kathryn McGuire) find themselves stranded on an otherwise deserted ocean liner, fending for themselves for the first time. (It’s a mark of the film’s naivete that, once the boat is adrift, the spy subplot is abandoned!)
Comic highlights include a virtuoso exercise in comic timing in which the hero and heroine, unaware of each other’s presence, wander the ship looking for another soul; their subsequent struggles to make breakfast; and Buster’s battles with a recalcitrant deck chair. Then the ship runs aground near an island, and Buster must battle swordfish on the ocean floor and cannibals assailing the ship. The final gag, when all seems lost, is a doozy.
Buster Keaton’s first feature-length comedy is one of his best, a comic gem set against a backdrop of a Hatfield-McCoy style family feud. Raised far from the scene of generations of “McKay-Canfield” violence, young Willie McKay (Keaton) knows nothing about the bad blood between the two families — until the time comes for him to go home and claim his inheritance.
Arguably the greatest of Buster Keaton’s silent comedies, The General begins with a single, brilliantly sustained premise and works it into an engaging story that combines edge-of-your-seat excitement, stunningly conceived stunts and sight gags, spectacular set pieces, touching sentiment, and a rousing finale.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.