GOLD RUSH, THE (director/writer/editor/music: Charlie Chaplin; cinematographers: Roland Totheroh/Jack Wilson; editor: Harry McGhan; cast: Charlie Chaplin (The Lone Prospector), Mack Swain (Big Jim McKay), Georgia Hale (Georgia), Tom Murray (Black Larsen), Henry Bergman (Hank Curtis, Mining Engineer), Betty Morrissey (Georgia’s Friend), Kay Desleys (Georgia’s Friend), Joan Lowell (Georgia’s Friend), Allan Garcia (Prospector), Tom Wood (Prospector), Albert Austin (Prospector), Malcolm Waite (Jack Cameron); Runtime: 82; United Artists; 1925-silent)
“A quintessential Charlie Chaplin silent film…”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A quintessential Charlie Chaplin silent film that Charlie created after reading a book about the infamous Donner party tragedy involving cannibalism. This comedy had all his great pantomime moves from his Little Tramp routines down pat, his social satire, and his mawkish sentimentality was also there to rear its ugly head. I saw the version that was re-edited in 1942, where Chaplin removed the subtitles from the original and did the voiceover himself. It also includes a musical soundtrack. This version will probably disappoint purists, but I found it engaging to hear Chaplin’s smug voice–it reinforced for me his ungraceful attempts to try and ingratiate his character into the audience’s bosom. Yet it’s a great comic film, comedy that set a standard for excellence since his Little Tramp character began in 1914.
It’s set in 1898 during the Klondike gold rush where Charlie is the lone prospector walking in his shabby tramp suit, with his familiar mustache, with his signature cane and derby, and with his distinctive walk he is hiking over the Alaskan snow-covered wilderness of Chilkoot Pass. He’s amusingly being followed by a bear he doesn’t know is there. In the voiceover, he refers to himself as the Little Fellow. Tired, cold, and hungry, he enters the remote log-cabin of a dangerous fugitive, Black Larsen. Charlie is intimidated by him and when kicked out of the cabin, there’s a funny scene where he can’t leave because there’s a blizzard whose high winds keep him from walking through the open door. Soon another prospector, Big Jim (Swain), who struck gold, comes to get shelter and food when his tent is blown away. He overpowers Black Larsen when the baddie tries to shoot him with his rifle, and the three stay in the small cabin together.
Big Jim, basically a goodhearted chap, decides one of them has to go out and come back with food, and the low card goes to Black Larsen. But when outside he’s met by two policemen, whom he kills in a shootout by their campsite. He also discovers Big Jim’s stash of gold there and has no plans of returning for the other two.
Starving to death, the film’s classic comedy scene has Charlie preparing one of his black boots as a turkey and its laces as spaghetti in boiling water as a Thanksgiving meal. The boot was made out of licorice, a laxative that caused Charlie to miss a few days of shooting when its effects kicked in after shooting that scene. There’s also a funny bit where Big Jim becomes delirious and visualizes Charlie as a chicken and chases him around the cabin with an ax.
When the blizzard subsides, Charlie and Big Jim amiably part company. When Big Jim goes to his “mountain of gold” he discovers his gold was stolen, and he’s conked over the head by Black Larsen. This causes his loss of memory. Meanwhile, Black Larsen in his escape by sled runs into an avalanche and dies falling down the side of the crumbling mountain.
Charlie lives in the cabin of a kindly mining engineer, Hank, who allows him to stay there while he’s away. When he goes into town to find human companionship he falls in love with a dance hall girl, Georgia (Hale). She’s being courted by a roughhouse ladies man, Jack. She uses Charlie as an excuse to get Jack mad, when she chooses to dance with him in the saloon after turning Jack down. While dancing his pants keep falling down, so he secures a rope as a substitute for a belt but doesn’t realize there’s a dog tied to the rope. After the dance and a fight with the tougher Jack, he accidentally gets the heavy grandfather clock from above to topple down and knock him out. After that, he doesn’t see Georgia for a while.
But Georgia and her girlfriends on an outing accidentally come across his cabin, and decide to tease him when they realize he loves Georgia after seeing he has a photo of her under his pillow. They make a date to come to his cabin for a New Year’s Eve dinner, never intending to show up. He takes it seriously and earns money by shoveling snow, and cooks them a chicken dinner and buys them small gifts he puts on the dining table. When they don’t show he falls asleep dreaming by the dining table that they are there and entertains them by sticking two forks in two rolls, then performs an energetic little pantomime “dance” with the rolls.
The next day Big Jim arrives looking for Charlie, realizing that the Little Fellow can help him remember where his gold is. He tells Charlie, take me to our old cabin and I’ll make you rich. When they find the cabin after a long journey, the two tired men fall asleep and don’t realize a windstorm has moved the cabin to where it is seesawing on the edge of an abyss. It’s fun watching them try to get out of the sliding cabin. When they manage to get out of the cabin before it falls down the mountain, Big Jim discovers his mountain of gold and they become millionaires.
In the final scene Charlie meets Georgia on the ship, while coming home to the ‘land of milk and honey.’ When having his photo taken on deck dressed as a tramp he falls into the steerage class–where she’s at. One can only believe she’s attracted to his money as she never loved him, but it’s implied they are now engaged as he takes her to his rich quarters. Charlie wants to get both the money and the girl in this film, which makes for a too happy ending for the Little Tramp.
This is a great comedy despite its awkward sentimentality; it showboats Charlie’s gift for sight gags and choreographed slapstick. It’s the film Charlie felt closest to, and became his first starring hit for the new studio he owned with Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith, and Douglas Fairbanks–United Artists.
REVIEWED ON 12/7/2001 GRADE: B +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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