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Film / The Navigator

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Things do not go smoothly.

The Navigator is a 1924 silent comedy starring Buster Keaton, who co-directed with Donald Crisp. Buster plays Rollo Treadway, one of his many Idle Rich characters, who in this instance proposes to his girlfriend Betsy because he can't think of anything else to do that day. Betsy angrily rebuffs his proposal, but Buster decides to take the honeymoon cruise to Hawaii anyway.

In the meantime, Betsy's father, a shipping magnate, sells a passenger liner called the Navigator to one of two Banana Republic nations that are at war. Agents of the other combatant nation are in town, and they decide to cut the ship adrift to deny it to the enemy. Betsy and her father arrive at the pier just as the secret agents are cutting the ship loose. Betsy's father is attacked while Betsy winds up on the ship as its drifting away. And if that's not complicated enough, Buster is also on the ship, having blundered onto the Navigator instead of his cruise ship.

All of this elaborate setup is simply to establish the premise of the main story, which is Buster and his girlfriend adrift on the open ocean, and their comic hijinks aboard the cruise ship.

Not to be confused with the trope The Navigator — which is averted in this film, as Buster is adrift and no navigation is going on. Also not to be confused with the 1988 movie The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey


This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Ships: Any submarine that flipped upside down would not right itself but would go straight to the bottom, guaranteed.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Rollo tries to make coffee for the first time in his life; he uses ocean water. He adds a spoonful of sugar, tastes it — then dumps the entire container of sugar in his mug.
  • Binocular Shot: When Rollo and Betsy arrive at the island, they take a look at the beach through binoculars in this fashion.
  • Cannibal Tribe: Played completely straight. The Navigator is drifting toward an island when its anchor gets stuck in the sea bottom. Hostile natives appear on the shore. Betsy decides they're cannibals, and sure enough, the climax of the movie is Rollo and Betsy getting chased around by homicidal, spear-toting, loincloth-wearing natives.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: Pretty much the whole third act is this, with the Navigator running aground outside some island, followed by Rollo and Betsy being chased by the angry natives therein.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The knife Rollo checks out before going for his underwater repair mission comes in handy later when he has to fight the sea monster.
    • The gangplank that hangs off the side of the Navigator when it's cut loose becomes a makeshift ladder first for the cannibals and later Rollo and Betsy.
    • The roman candles from earlier help the heroes defending the ship against the attackers.
  • Coconut Meets Cranium: A monkey drops a coconut on Rollo's head which incapacitates him for a few moments.
  • Convenient Escape Boat: Just as Rollo and Betsy are trapped in the ocean with nowhere to run, and Rollo decides to drown himself and Betsy —a submarine shows up. Directly beneath them, lifting them up above the surface, saving them from the cannibals.
  • Creator Cameo: That's co-director Donald Crisp's snarling face in the photo that winds up swinging past the porthole to Rollo's cabin.
  • Deus ex Machina: The submarine that surfaces at the last moment, saving Rollo and Betsy from the cannibals, is just barely justified by the fact that there are two countries at war somewhere in the area.
  • Fish out of Water: Idle Rich Rollo and Betsy are thrown into a completely unfamiliar situation of having to provide for themselves on the boat.
  • From Bad to Worse: When underwater, Rollo's oxygen supply gets cut off. His situation is worsened by the arrival of a sea monster which Rollo has to fight off.
  • Ghost Ship: The Navigator turns into one when drifting around the ocean for weeks.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The opening title card.
    "Our story deals with one of those queer tricks that Fate sometimes plays."
  • Help Mistaken for Attack: On the boat at night, Rollo has to jump for Betsy to save her from going overboard with the deckchair. Not realizing the danger she was in, Betsy starts complaining about Rollo imposing himself on her.
  • Idle Rich: How lazy is Rollo? He takes a limousine ride across the street to his girlfriend's house.
  • Improvised Zipline: Rollo and Betsy make it to one of the cannibal canoes by flinging a life preserver from the boat to the canoe and zipping down on the life preserver rope. The cannibals prove that unnecessary when they simply dive off the boat.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: The swordfish fencing.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Rollo and Betsy repeatedly missing each other on a ship, in spite of the fact that they're also the only two passengers on the vessel.
  • No Can Opener: Rollo tries to use a huge drill as well as comically large hatchets and cleavers to hack open a can of milk. Eventually he jury-rigs a can opener.
  • Protect This House: The third act is Protect This Ship when Rollo and Betsy fight off the angry natives.
  • Rich Boredom: Rollo decides to marry his girl that day, because he has nothing better to do.
  • Road Trip Across the Street: As noted under Idle Rich above, Rollo has his chauffeur drive him in a limo across the street to his girlfriend's house.
  • Shamu Fu: In what has to be one of the goofiest gags in Buster Keaton's filmography, Buster is underwater in a diving suit, trying to free the propeller, when a swordfish attacks him. He manages to grab and subdue the swordfish, whereupon a second swordfish attacks—and yes, Rollo uses the "sword" of the first swordfish to fence with the second swordfish.
  • Sleep Cute: One scene ends with Rollo and Betsy asleep on a bench, nestled against each other in the classic pose.
  • Splash of Color: The yellow flag, signaling quarantine.
  • Storming the Castle: The natives go on to storm the boat. With palm trees, no less.
  • This Is My Boomstick: Accidentally. The cannibals flee in terror when Rollo emerges from the water in his diving suit.
  • Thunder Equals Downpour: One bolt of lighting cues an instant torrential thunderstorm, waking up Rollo and Betsy, who were sleeping on the deck.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: The nighttime scenes show in stark blue colors.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The opening scene has one of the mobsters explain how they are gonna destroy the Navigator. Of course their plans gets bungled.
  • Vehicle Title: Rollo's boat is called the Navigator.

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