Scen.: Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, Jean Havez. F.: Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck. Int.: Buster Keaton (Rollo Treadway), Kathryn McGuire (Betsy O’Brien), Frederick Vroom (Mr. O’Brien), Clarence Burton, H.M. Clugston (spie/cannibali), Noble Johnson (il capo dei cannibali). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Buster Keaton Productions DCP. D.: 59’. Bn.
The film is called The Navigator. However, just as The General is a locomotive, the navigator is a steamer. A big steamer, which, through a series of accidents, drifts out into the ocean without anybody on-board, with the exception of the two protagonists: Buster Keaton as Rollo Treadway, spoiled scion of a very rich family but with a simple and intrepid heart; and Kathryn McGuire as the girl, daughter of an equally wealthy ship owner. The film was released in 1924 and it was Keaton’s biggest hit. As in The General, the title is misleading for a specific reason: it reflects an instinctive, poetic animism of Keaton’s cinema, where it seems that objects, machines, physical phenomena, all posses a life of their own, whether they are alive or, indeed, inanimate.
I watched many of Keaton’s films. Well, if I may, I’d like to confess that The Navigator is a personal favorite. However, this is not necessarily a judgment on the merits of this film. Let’s put it this way: it is my favorite and the one that moves me the most. It’s the craziest, the dreamiest, the most poetic of all. For more than almost three-quarters of the story, there are only two characters: Keaton and the girl. It’s a film about love, with all its uncertainties and misunderstandings, with its idyllic, dramatic and tragic moments, its movement forward and its final triumph. Don’t get me wrong, love is omnipresent in Keaton’s films. And yet, this is the only one where it’s by far the main theme, almost an attempt to give a supreme and heroic interpretation of human life. The second most important theme is a counterpoint to the absolute of love: emptiness, loneliness, anguish. A comic and tragic anguish, as is always the case, with Keaton.
Mario Soldati, Maestri del cinema in TV: Buster Keaton, edited by Simonetta Campana e Massimo Vecchi, Rai, Roma 1972
For the restoration of The Navigator, ten elements were inspected and analyzed, seven of those – six held by Cohen Film Collection and one by the CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée – were digitized and compared. One element was finally selected for the restoration: a third generation safety duplicate positive held at the Cohen Film Collection which was scanned at 4K resolution.