1924 Dir Donald Crisp / Buster Keaton 59mins
Buster Keaton’s all at sea again, as the unwitting, hapless hero of this brilliant silent comedy where his genius for visual gags and narrative direction (he co-directed the film with Donald Crisp), can still entertain and enthrall us nearly a century later. The film isn’t just an adventure at sea, blending in, as it does, romance (with his leading lady played by Kathryn McGuire), a spy plot – which leads to the two of them being alone on the ship, the threat of cannibalism and quite a large chunk of surreality… Discovering a leak in the stern tube of the steamer (The SS Navigator of the title) – which has run aground – Buster dons a diving suit and sets up his tools under the keel. It’s a dreamlike scene. And of course he does all the wrong things it’s possible to do at sea…
The timing and sheer scope of the slapstick is still impressive as is his on-screen chemistry with McGuire, so that you are by turns laughing and then being moved by the artistry of how the story unfolds. One of the funniest scenes (right) is when (defending the ship from cannibals) he carelessly ties a starting gun to his foot, having lit the fuse, so that it then chases him, smoking dangerously around the deck. It’s one of many brilliant takes that makes you realise why he is still so admired. There’s an engaging freshness to Keaton’s work; it probably comes from somewhere between the deadpan face and the athletic energy of his acting, but it’s very endearing. And enduring.
Watch it on the touched up bluray if you can but otherwise there are some clean-ish versions online… as above. DMH