At the request of his star Buster Keaton, producer Joseph M. Schenck purchased an obsolete ocean liner for $20,000. Keaton wanted to use the boat as a prop in his upcoming feature comedy, but went into production with nary a plot idea in his head.
Eventually, Buster and his chief gagman Clyde Bruckman came up with a story involving two wealthy, pampered young people (played by Keaton and Kathryn McGuire), who through a series of fantastic but logical plot convolutions end up stranded together on a drifting, deserted ocean liner.
At first, the young couple is helpless because they've never had to lift a finger in their lives. As the weeks pass, Keaton and McGuire become quite adept at fending for themselves, utilizing the huge facilities of the liner (its steam room, its enormous kitchen) for the simplest and most basic of necessities.
An attack by a cannibal tribe requires Keaton to be more resourceful than ever; the build-up to the climactic contretemps between Keaton and the cannibals is almost as side-splitting as the climax itself.
While the film is rife with some of Buster Keaton's most elaborate gags, he scores equally well with smaller, more intimate comedy bits, notably his losing battle with a deck chair and his attempt to shuffle a waterlogged deck of cards.
Reasoning that the comedy in The Navigator would work best if built upon an utterly serious storyline, Keaton hired actor/director Donald Crisp to handle the straight scenes. Alas, as Keaton would later recall, the constitutionally humorless Crisp turned gagman on us, resulting in miles of wasted footage.
Thus, pay no attention to the official directorial credits: Buster Keaton alone is responsible for the helming of The Navigator. Joe Schenck's initial 20 grand investment proved sagacious when Navigator ended up as Buster Keaton's most profitable silent feature film.