When Chaplin released The Gold Rush in 1925, he announced that it was the film for which he wanted to be remembered – a statement he was to repeat often throughout his life. It was warmly received by critics and so well received by its audience that it became – and remained – the highest grossing silent comedy of all time.
The story follows the Tramp as he goes off to seek his fortune in the Alaskan gold fields, along with prospectors both good and greedy with whom he falls in and falls out. Naturally, he meets a girl who is ‘looking for an honest man’ with whom he falls in love, but she only toys with him and, having agreed she would meet him for New Year’s Eve dinner, she stands him up. Whilst waiting for his guest, the Tramp falls asleep and dreams of how he will win her:
This scene has been repeated and alluded to in various films ever since it’s release – in Godard’s Bande a part (1964), Anna Karina references it just before the friends embark on a famous dance of their own. Also, Johnny Depp recreated it in Benny and Joon:
And, more recently, Amy Adams references it in the ‘Me Party’ scene in The Muppets (“what happens at a me party, stays at a me party” – got to love that).
Chaplin went to great lengths to get the look and the feel of the film right, initially filming several scenes on location but eventually abandoning this and creating fantastic sets in his studio instead. The cinematography is at times breathtaking and the special effects are pretty astonishing given the time (see the scene where the mountain gives way – it actually looks pretty decent even by today’s standards). The mise-en-scene and characterizations of the supporting cast are delivered with an incredible eye for detail, which, given that it is Chaplin after all, isn’t surprising and yet, this still stands out from the rest of his films.
The rugged beauty of the landscape, the authenticity of the gnarly-looking hang-abouts in the saloon – adventurers and opportunists, dirty and desperate – and the violence and murder are all pretty sobering stuff, and more what you’d expect from a drama or a western of its time. But of course, as I’m sure Chaplin believed, there’s no reason why comedy can’t also be high art – and The Gold Rush is a good example of this.
A word of warning, the film was re-issued by Chaplin in 1942, partially re-edited and a new (Oscar-winning) score was added. All well. However, Chaplin also added descriptive dialogue which he delivered himself which at times feels cumbersome and unnecessary, detracting at times from the sublime visual comedy. The film is only available in this format and it’s not so annoying once you get used to it, so don’t be put off.
Anyway, here is a shot from the final scene which didn’t make the re-edit (Chaplin removed it as, at the time of making the film he and his co-star, Georgina Hale, were having an affair – perhaps the older Chaplin cringed at the memory of this indiscretion, but if he did, one imagines he only cringed in public):
posted by Dixie Turner