The Navigator (Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp / U.S., 1924):

The diving bell and the butterfly. Buster Keatonís master coup is in seizing Murnauís haunted ship as a gargantuan comic prop for a pair of stranded nitwits, who donít know what to do with it. Keatonís aristocratic bull calf ("Every family tree must have its sap") gazes out the window and spots joyful newlyweds in a jalopy: "I think Iíll get married. Today," he declares to himself, the thought still floating in his mind as he steps fully clothed into his bathtub. The girl, a fellow moneyed ninny (Kathryn McGuire), is an unwilling bride until theyíre both set adrift in a vast, crewless liner and their pampered ignorance is put to the test. Their first challenge is to find each other in a balletic hide-and-seek match set in the deserted shipís streamlined corridors, making coffee is the next ordeal (a handful of unground beans and a vat of seawater fill the bill, sort of). The story goes that humorless old Donald Crisp was hired for the dramatic scenes but then decided he wanted in on the gags, much to Keatonís chagrin -- hence his cameo as the scowling photograph swinging by the heroís porthole? In any case, thereís the unruffled comedy of hatchets in sardine cans, fencing sessions with swordfish, and the mutual dunking and splashing of the clueless seafarers' mating dance. And thereís the eponymous vessel, introduced out of Whistler (Old Battersea Bridge) and explored sublimely: lavish purgatory, haunted mansion, medieval fortress invaded by cannibals, a perpetually swaying frame, a space station as functional and uncanny as Kubrickís. Hitchcock at least twice (Rich and Strange, Lifeboat), The African Queen, Juggernaut... The closing gag reveals how much futurist art is called into play, and to boot lays out the choreography for a certain Fred Astaire number. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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