"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

November 10, 2011

"The Gold Rush" (1925) by Chaplin (Film review)

The Gold Rush (1925) is Chaplin at his most characteristic. It was also the film Chaplin himself liked best. But there are two "buts" standing in the way of my enjoyment: when I was a kid, The Gold Rush was played so often on TV (with other Chaplin and slapstick stuff) that even today I can remember all the gags - there is no freshness left (others call it the "collective memory of our culture"); and the "Little Tramp" is a rather mawkish figure, a sort of sentimentality that simply is not of our time. I am more a fan of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd - see for example my review of Girl Shy.

The tramp has become a lone prospector, venturing into the snows of Alaska to make his fortune. The first half hour of the film is set in a cabin around which the snow storm blows. The scenes I could remember are from this part and include the prospector's cabin teetering on the brink of the abyss, the consumption of a leather shoe when food has run out, and - for the same reason - Chaplin envisioned as a juicy chicken by another hungry inmate. After that, the story moves back to civilization in the form of a rough and ready gold-digger's boomtown, where Chaplin visits the saloon and meets the unavoidable girl (Georgia Hale). Of course, he falls in love with her and by a nifty trick (a more sophisticated element in the film) is led to believe this feeling is mutual.

One of the weak and sentimental scenes is the one in which Chaplin has been made to believe that Georgia is coming to Christmas dinner in his cottage - he has prepared a real feast, shoveling snow to get the money for all the delicacies, spending lots of time setting the table - but of course she doesn't show up...

Chaplin filmed only the opening scene of the film on location, in the mountains between California and Nevada. You see a long line of black "ants" crawling up a mountain pass through the snow. But the rest was made in the studio, which better fitted Chaplin's slow way of working (real snow would melt before he had taken his second shot).
The Gold Rush is available in the Criterion Collection.
 (Revised August 2014)