Tuesday Editor’s Pick: The Gold Rush (1925)

by on December 20, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri Dec 23 to Sun Dec 25 & Tues Dec 27 to Thurs Dec 29 at 1:00, 4:30, 6:15, 8:00, 9:45, and Mon Dec 26 at 1:00, 4:30, 6:15, 9:30 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]


Film Forum dependably serves up its seasonal course of Christmas Chaplin, but this time the revival is extra special. Per the program notes: “Long available theatrically only in Chaplin’s 1942 reissue version, which he re-edited and narrated, this is his complete 1925 silent original — its finale is subtly and unsettlingly different — with a newly-recorded orchestral score of Chaplin’s own music arranged and conducted by Timothy Brock.”


Phil Hall implores you, for Film Threat:

While it is very easy to watch “The Gold Rush” on your computer or to pick up a cheapo public domain copy, it is impossible to comprehend why would anyone turn down the chance to see the film as Chaplin originally intended – on a big screen, in a pristine visual print, accompanied by his music. By all means, anyone in the Big Apple needs to include “The Gold Rush” as part of his or her Yuletide activities. After all, a peerless opportunity like this is the ultimate Christmas gift for the true movie lover.



Dave Kehr for the Chicago Reader:

Charles Chaplin’s best-loved film (1925), with the tramp down-and-out (as usual) in Alaska, where he looks for gold, falls in love with a dance-hall girl (Georgia Hale), eats his shoes for Thanksgiving dinner, and ends up a millionaire. The blend of slapstick and pathos is seamless, although the cynicism of the final scene is still surprising. Chaplin’s later films are quirkier and more personal, but this is quintessential Charlie, and unmissable.


Allan Vanneman for Bright Lights Film Journal:

The Gold Rush is Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece — the one film in which his desire to make the audience laugh and the desire to make the audience love him are held in perfect balance. It was a near-superhuman feat, and it’s no surprise that even Chaplin only achieved it once. In later films, Chaplin’s neediness, his desire for the audience’s approval, to make people realize how special he was, could get the better of him. But in The Gold Rush, no matter how pathetic Charlie is, we’re always laughing at him. The proper comedic distance is always maintained.



Eric Kohn for Indiewire:

Eighty-five years young, “The Gold Rush” is still an effective tear-jerker. It’s still wonderfully indicative of Chaplin’s unique physicality and calculated, emotionally satisfying storytelling techniques. Chaplin knew bittersweet better than anyone; he practically invented it.


Chaplin wasn’t an ambitious filmmaker. His camera rarely moved and he almost never indulged in montage trickery or elaborate effects (the human chicken illusion in “The Gold Rush” was done in-camera). But he still epitomizes the power of the moving image because of his ability to package the full range of its visceral effects on the viewer within the context of a universally accessible narrative. (His later sound works veered away from this simplicity and thus have plenty of flaws, although they’re fascinating for that very reason.)

In the YouTube era, audiences — myself included — often anoint the latest sneezing panda phenomenon as comedic gold. Unless I’m missing something, however, nothing online has come close to matching the mixture of affectionate fragility and seamless comedic inspiration perfected by the Tramp.



Keith Uhlich gives it five stars in the new issue of Time Out New York:

Before Werner Herzog ate his shoe, there was a certain Lone Prospector trapped in a snowbound cabin during the Klondike gold rush, stomach growling and a boiled boot – with a side of shoestring spaghetti – the only option for subsistence. What’s a Little Tramp to do in this punishing environment but make the best o things? He chows down on the soggy footwear with all the aplomb he can muster, leaving the looks of disgust to his bear of a best friend, Big Jim McKay, who later has visions of Chaplin’s iconic character as a giant chicken ripe for the plucking.

The greatest of silent comedies could be subtitled “Hunger” – not just for a decent meal, but for financial stability, for the love of a good woman, for a house isn’t perched precariously on a cliff. Pointedly, the only time Chaplin lays with his food (the famous dinner-roll dance) is in a dream. Reality is a harsh mistress, as the Prospector-Tramp discovers when he falls for a saloon girl, Georgia, who won’t give him the time of day. This is the original 1925 cut so the Tramp-Georgia relationship is much more astringent, even in its deceptively sentimental resolution. Per Chaplin, The Gold Rush is “the picture I want to be remembered by.” We’ll happily oblige.



Guillermo Del Toro selects it as one of his five favorites movies of all time, saying it “has at least a third of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic moments.” Interestingly enough, Michael Haneke, Sam Fuller, and Luis Bunuel are super-fans as well.


Christian Blauvelt for Slant:

Chaplin’s shortcomings in terms of characterization are minor compared to the astounding achievement of his epic special effects work. The Gold Rush is the film that most soundly refutes the idea that Keaton understands landscape better than Chaplin. Six hundred extras were hired for the staggering long shot of desperate miners climbing up the face of a Yukon mountain, and Chaplin—shooting the scene in Truckee, California—amazingly got all the footage he needed in just one day. The Gold Rush does show up Chaplin’s very different response to the forces of nature than Keaton, however. When cartoonishly strong gale-force winds blow through Black Larsen’s cabin, where the Tramp has sought refuge to the scoundrel Larsen’s dismay, Chaplin runs against the wind as if on a treadmill, getting nowhere. Whereas Keaton balances whatever nature or man should throw at him, Chaplin is either oblivious to any danger, such as when a bear follows him along a narrow cliff, or is tossed about by it. The Gold Rush may be Chaplin’s most ambitious film and certainly the one that’s hardest to define in terms of his “theatricality”—or even the terms that he had set for himself. The famous “Dance of the Rolls” sequence is shot almost entirely in medium close-up with Chaplin’s facial expressions contributing greatly to the scene, confounding his own idea that comedy occurs only in a “long shot.” The Gold Rush also represents a new level of control for Chaplin. He supervised every aspect of the production, including even donning a chicken costume, when another actor couldn’t get it right.



Felicia Feaster with some further context, for TCM:

The Gold Rush was Chaplin’s first starring role as a collaborator in the United Artists company, formed six years previously with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. The inspiration for The Gold Rush was said to be twofold. Breakfasting with husband and wife Fairbanks and Pickford, Chaplin was intrigued by stereograph photos owned by the pair which depicted the Klondike gold rush. Chaplin was also fascinated by the tragic events of the Donner party, who in 1846, while traversing the United States in the snow, had to resort to cannibalism to keep from starving to death (reportedly the survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions). Part of the filming for The Gold Rush, in fact, took place close to where the Donner party camped.

A perfectionist always striving for the perfect end result, Chaplin made The Gold Rush at the enormous cost of over $900,000 and filmed under often physically brutal, rustic conditions in the Nevada town of Truckee. Testifying to the primitive working conditions, the film’s first leading lady, Lita Grey, complained her hotel room featured a chamber pot and three cuspidors. Chaplin had initially planned to feature Grey, the child star of his 1921 film The Kid, in the role of the dance hall girl at $75 dollars a week. But Chaplin found himself forced to change direction when he impregnated the 16-year-old Grey and her belly began to betray evidence of her condition. In a dramatic about-face, Chaplin averted a potential charge of statutory rape by marrying Grey and casting Georgia Hale in the role. A former Miss America contestant who used her beauty contest money to move to Hollywood, Hale was cast in the role of Georgia after auditions that had pitted her against such other talented beauties as Carole Lombard (then Jean Peters).

The Gold Rush has been cited by the International Film Jury as the second greatest film of all time (after Battleship Potemkin, 1925), and Chaplin said it was the film he would most like to be remembered by. Today The Gold Rush remains one of cinema’s enduring comedy classics, starring, written and directed by the twentieth century’s first media superstar.



Dan Harper with some background on the two versions, for Senses of Cinema:

In 1942, Chaplin re-released the film with all the title cards removed and music, sound effects and narration (all by Chaplin, of course) added. Tthere are subtle differences in the re-release version. Chaplin often used two cameras during shooting, and some of the scenes are framed differently, suggesting he used some of the footage from the second camera. And one significant cut takes place at the very end of the film. In the original cut, The Lone Prospector (Charlie) and Georgia are having their picture taken by some reporters and Charlie gives Georgia a prolonged kiss. In the re-release the scene is gone, the film ending with Charlie and Georgia simply disappearing up some stairs, with Chaplin comically alluding in his narration to their future together. Perhaps Chaplin felt that the kiss was a too-happy ending for the Tramp.
Since the appearance of the re-release version, a preference for the original has developed among Chaplin purists. Many still find Chaplin’s narration, though often discreet, to be too unsubtle for the film, sometimes belittling the action. For instance, Chaplin playfully mocks the (obviously intentional) overacting of Mack Swain – which is unnecessary editorializing. It was as if Chaplin were making excuses for a new audience unaccustomed to silent film.
But the original film, untampered with and unimproved, still resonates with audiences whenever or wherever it is shown. Chaplin’s Little Tramp was so entirely a creature of the silent film that he never allowed him to speak – except the gibberish song he sings in Modern Times (1936). Chaplin is one of the very few film artists who, having made silence his métier, so prolonged the life of silent film that its persistence was guaranteed by his genius. The silent film lives through Chaplin.


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