The 1924 silent film “The Navigator” is a comedy directed by and starring Buster Keaton. The film features wealthy Rollo Treadway (Buster Keaton) who decides to propose to his neighbor across the street, Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire). Our two stars both unwittingly end up on the ship, the Navigator. The ship is set adrift and the two passengers have great difficulty looking after themselves, but adapt after a few weeks. Finally, the ship grounds itself near an inhabited tropical island and springs a leak. While Treadway slips on a deep sea diving suit and submerges to patch the hole, natives canoe out and take Betsy captive. When Treadway emerges from the ocean, the natives are scared off, enabling him to rescue Betsy and take her back to the ship. The natives return and after a fierce struggle, Treadway and Betsy try to escape in a small dinghy. It starts to sink, and the natives swiftly overtake them in their canoes. Just when all seems lost, a navy submarine surfaces right underneath them and they are saved.
The idea for this fun film began when Buster Keaton learned of a large passenger ship that was due to be scrapped. Seeing an opportunity, he purchased the ship for a low price and proceeded to build a story around this massive prop. Filming took place in Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and in our very own Redondo Beach! Keaton built a special set on a bluff overlooking the Redondo Beach pier. The temporary set had no roof, but was instead covered with muslin to diffuse the natural sunlight for filming.
The May 2, 1924 issue of the “Redondo Reflex” included an article about Buster Keaton making the film in Redondo Beach…more evidence of noteworthy pieces of our local history contained on old microfiche waiting for the curious explorer to spend some time at the library researching. The RBHS is working to raise funds to digitize these old newspapers…think how convenient it would be to research the City’s history from your home laptop!