Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Navigator (1924)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Navigator (1924)

In Buster Keaton's classic comedy, reportedly Keaton's favorite film - a fish-out-of-water tale with many inventive sight gags:

  • the introduction provided by prologue title cards: "Our story deals with one of those queer tricks that Fate sometimes plays. Nobody would believe, for instance, that the entire lives of a peaceful American boy and girl could be changed by a funny little war between two small countries far across the sea. And yet it came to pass. The spies of the two little nations were at a Pacific seaport, each trying to prevent the other getting ships and supplies."
  • the story of well-to-do Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton) and equally-naive flapper girlfriend and across-the-street neighbor Betsy O'Brien (Kathryn McGuire), who had rejected his simple proposal to get married ("Will you marry me?") with her simple response ("Certainly not"); he was forced to rip up a ticket he had purchased for her to join him as his bride on a Honolulu honeymoon cruise
  • due to rival factions of international spies from two small nations at war, the sale of a cruise ship (Betsy's father John O'Brien (Frederick Vroom) had sold the steamship the S.S. Navigator to one of the small countries at war, after which spies from the opposing country set it loose), and a mixup of pier numbers (12 vs. 2), Rollo and Betsy mistakenly found themselves deserted and adrift on a foggy night on the S.S. Navigator - Rollo thought he had boarded an ocean cruise to Honolulu, while she boarded the same ship to look for her father
  • sailing aimlessly on the Pacific Ocean on their first morning, Rollo and Betsy did not know of each other's presence as they roamed the deck - often just missing each other, until they accidentally bumped into each other
  • the numerous and elaborate sight gags first involved the two spoiled rich kids' inept efforts to make breakfast: to brew a few coffee beans in a pot using sea water, to open a can by whacking it with a machete, to boil eggs in a large pot and remove them, to open a can of tinned milk with a drill, and to use oversized cooking implements as personal utensils
  • the failed efforts of Rollo and Betsy to signal a naval rescue ship (their hoisted yellow flag was interpreted as "quarantined"), and to fearlessly drop a small rowboat from the deck into the water in order to absurdly pursue the naval ship by pulling The Navigator (before sinking the rowboat)
Dropping a Rowboat Into the Water
to Tug The Navigator
  • the classic sequence of Rollo attempting to set up an uncooperative folding deck chair and put Betsy in it
  • the first evening, the gag of a swinging-portrait on a nail, seen through Rollo's porthole next to his bed, and thinking it was a ghost
  • in the dark, Rollo's mistaking a large box of "GIANT FIRECRACKERS" and "ROMAN CANDLES" for regular candles
  • Rollo's failed efforts to shuffle a wet deck of playing cards
  • still drifting after weeks at sea, Rollo's many Rube Goldberg-like inventions to make life easier in the kitchen
  • their sighting of cannibals - and to avoid drifting ashore and being captured, the scene of Rollo's underwater deep sea diving (in an elaborate diving outfit with helmet) to patch a leak in the ship, including his duel with a swordfish (by using another swordfish!) and an encounter with an octopus, while a tribe of island cannibals in an outrigger canoe kidnapped Betsy from the deck
Heavy Deep Sea Diving Outfit
Patching a Leaky Hole Underwater
Fighting a Swordfish
  • the scene of Rollo's routing of the natives by scaring them when he emerged on shore in his deep-sea diving outfit; after returning to the Navigator, they circumvented the cannibals' entry onto the ship by cutting away the gang-plank, throwing water down on them, and exploding firecrackers at them
Betsy's Rescue From Cannibals
  • the classic scene of Rollo's encounter with a toy cannon that was accidentally tied to his leg (he stepped into a rope loop) that was continually aimed at him, while he was trying to point it at the attacking cannibals
The Toy Cannon
  • as the Navigator's decks were completely overrun by cannibals, Rollo and Betsy escaped to the outrigger canoe vacated by the natives; but then they were again pursued and appeared about to meet their demise via drowning, when they were miraculously rescued by an emerging naval submarine underneath them; they entered the hatch, closed it, and escaped as the submarine descended
A Kiss - and Tossed Around Inside Rescue Submarine
  • inside the submarine, Rollo was kissed by a grateful Betsy, but then accidentally fell backwards onto an orientational lever control, sending the galley's interior cabin slowly rotating 360 degrees around and tossing them about like they were within a dryer, as the film ended

One Country's Plot to Set The Navigator Steamship Adrift

Betsy Rejecting Neighbor Rollo's Marriage Proposal

Searching For Each Other On The Navigator and Eventually Bumping Into Each Other

Failing to Set Up a Folding Deck Chair

"Ghost" Seen Through Rollo's Bunk Porthole

Firecrackers, Not Candles

Shuffling Wet Playing Cards

Sighting Cannibals on a Nearby Island

Betsy's Kidnapping

Doomed to Drown, But Saved By a Submarine Emerging Underneath


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