Buster Goes to Sea

Buster Keaton loved trains, but he did some great comedy with boats, too. Let’s first look at a two-reeler, The Love Nest.

The captain is played by Big Joe Roberts, a long-time friend of the Keaton family and a regular actor in many of his films. You might remember him as the father in Our Hospitality.

While both of these movies were made in 1923, Roberts looks much older and moves very slowly in Our Hospitality. Sadly, he was ill and had a stroke during that movie’s production.  He had another one soon after it was finished and died.

In 1924, Buster got his hands on a cargo/passenger liner that happened to be available and made The Navigator.

I’ve read that this was his most successful film. Critical reception was mixed, but everybody loved the underwater scenes. Keaton filmed them in Lake Tahoe, not in the Bahamas where the Williamson brothers had filmed the groundbreaking underwater sequence in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea back in 1916.

A Keaton pratfall is a little more difficult underwater!

Slapstick is harder to do underwater.

Tahoe’s waters were (and are) crystal clear, but they’re chilly. For some reason Buster also filmed this during the winter, which exacerbated the problem.

What problem?

Well, there was the physical discomfort, but worse, the camera lens would fog up every time they tried to shoot a scene. Eventually, someone (not the cameraman) suggested that they put some ice in the tiny diving bell along with the camera (and the cameraman) and it worked, although each take had to be very short so the camera operator wouldn’t die of hypothermia.

So…got any complaints about your work day today? Me neither.

This is the best quality version I could find online – it’s a little jumpy, though, and the audio is monoaural. Sorry about that.

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, here is today’s feature film, The Navigator!

Categories: Saturday Silents, Silent movies

Tags: , , , ,

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