The Gold Rush (1925)
Part comedy, part drama, "The Gold Rush" reminds us of how bitter-sweet comedies can be. It's a film by Charlie Chaplin who pulls out his tried and true colors once again for a funny and moving piece about fate, adversity, the underdog, and love.
Set in the times of the great Alaskan Gold Rush, the film transports us to the icy land of the north. Prospectors huddle in bunches, braving the cold for their shot at making it big, courtesy of the old golden rock. There are treacherous paths that the prospectors must cross and some die along the way.
We are introduced to a lone prospector, a nameless man (not uncommon in Chaplin movies), who seems to be blundering about in the cold wilderness, not really looking for gold. He's oblivious to the dangers around him, walking on the edge of the cliffs and being followed by bears—I wouldn't say that he is happy. This lone prospector, played by Chaplin, seems to be just there in that surrounding. He's not really in it for the money or the gold, perhaps he's just trying to past the time.
There's always a deep melancholia inside Chaplin's movies, painted over with the slapstick and the physical stunts...but deep down, it's the final haunting note that sinks into our minds with just as much power as the smile of Mona Lisa.
A blizzard strikes and the prospector is left in terrible conditions, freezing to death. He happens upon a cabin that is being used by a fugitive from the law. Not knowing the peril he's getting himself into, the prospector walks into the house and starts eating the man's food. When confronted by the large criminal, he really has no choice but to leave.
But luck is on his side for this moment—in blows Big Jim McKay, a man who has just struck gold...big time. Suddenly very rich with no way to claim his wealth in the storm, McKay finds the cabin that Chaplin and the criminal are fighting inside. He quickly settles the arguments, taking a gun from the the villain, named Black Larsen (who possibly committed arson or larceny).
The storm rages on and hunger sets into the men. They nominate Black Larsen to go outside and bring them food back; but he's got grander schemes on his mind.
Hallucinations overtake Big Jim McKay and he starts to see the little mustached prospector as a chicken walking around the cabin, waiting to be eaten.
Having to escape the cold, the weary men, and the bears, Chaplin's protagonist finds himself in a town far up north, built to cater to the many prospectors.
In this town we have a girl named Georgia who seems like the typical love interest for Chaplin. She's a lovely brunette with a high-class demeanor and he's only a lonely tramp. It's the gender reversal of slum-princess movies and it works so well in Chaplin's capable hands.
The movie may not play out the way you plan it, which reminds us that Chaplin is not only a great actor, composer, and director; but he's also a terrific storyteller.
"The Gold Rush" doesn't truly exist in its original release form. It was later re-cut and re-released in the 40s by Chaplin. Most of the original 1925 film has been restored and it can be seen now; but there is room for error. Still, the images that remain are stunning enough. The humor is good, the story has heart, and the music is beyond words.
"The Gold Rush" proves that silent films can be just as impactful as their talking cousins, perhaps even more.
Posted by Micah Jones