4/18/12: The Gold Rush

“Let’s have some fun with our friend, The Little Tramp!”

The Gold Rush was the third film of roughly an hour or more directed by Charlie Chaplin. He went on to direct another 8 such films. He wrote, produced & appeared in all of them, starring in all but his final directorial project, 1967’s A Countess from Hong Kong, for which Marlon Brando was the leading man. Chaplin was a Renaissance film pioneer. He was also an accomplished dancer & musician, winning his one competitive Oscar at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 for Best Original Dramatic Score for his 1952 film Limelight. Because Limelight wasn’t released in L.A. until 1972, under the Academy’s rules at that time, it was Oscar eligible despite being 20 years old. In 1929, Chaplin also won a Special Award for directing, producing, writing & starring in The Circus at the very first Oscars; and in 1971, at the 44th Oscars, he received an Honorary Award for the incalculable effect he had in making motion pictures the art form of the 20th century. He also received two nominations for the Great Dictator and one for Monsieur Verdoux.

The Gold Rush was originally released in 1925 and pre-dated the first Academy Awards. As a result, when it was re-released in 1942, it was eligible for the 15th Academy Awards. It received nominations for Best Music for a Drama or Comedy and Best Sound Recording. The quality of the re-release is stunning and the sound & music are incredible, especially considering that the reworked film is now 70 years old. In 1992, The Gold Rush was selected to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and was voted the 58th Greatest American Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2007.

In The Gold Rush, Chaplin plays The Lone Prospector in search of riches in Alaska at the end of the 19th century. The terrain & weather are harsh and many prospectors turn back. But The Lone Prospector and another prospector, Big Jim, stay the course. Big Jim is rewarded by finding a cache of gold ore just before a terrible blizzard strikes. The Lone Prospector and Big Jim seek shelter and end up together in what seems to be an unoccupied cabin of another prospector. Then the owner returns & mayhem ensues. The plot thickens when The Lone Prospector meets & falls in love with the beautiful showgirl Georgia, played by Georgia Hale, with whom Chaplin was having an affair while the movie was being filmed. Charlie originally penned the role for his second wife, 16 year old Lita Grey, but she was pregnant when filming began & was replaced by Georgia Hale.

There are many great scenes in this wonderful, early comedy. My favorite is the Dancing Rolls segment. It shows The Little Tramp at his best – a brilliant mime able to use the most ordinary items as compelling props. I’m sure you’ll love this historic motion picture. It’s available for streaming on Netflix and rental on Blockbuster.com.


7 thoughts on “4/18/12: The Gold Rush

  1. Thanks for today’s dose of film education. I learn something new every time you put up an new one. I never knew Limelight wasn’t released in LA until 1972. The Dancing Rolls are also my favorite scene in Gold Rush. I have many fond memories of watching Chaplain (also Laurel and Hardy) very early on Saturday mornings before cartoons came on.

  2. Pingback: 1942 Oscar Winners | Guide to be a winner

  3. The review above is not, in fact, of the 1942 re-release. It’s of the original 1925 release: Potentially the DVD version which contains both the original 1925 version & the 1942 version. The original version apparently has the the sound & video cleaned up from the 1942 re-release but without the ridiculous changes (discussion impending) made in 1942.

    I attempted to find out exactly for which Oscars Chaplin submitted the re-release for consideration. I could not. The sound and music on the re-release are outstanding, that much is true. But completely without any facts on which to base the following hypothesis, I’d suggest: The only Academy Awards for which the re-release of The Gold Rush was submitted were Best Music for a Drama or Comedy and Best Sound Recording. And the Academy, in their standard “let’s award great films” procedure, voted it in for both based on the greatness of the original which was not eligible for Oscars since they were yet to be conceived & awarded, irrespective of the unfortunate issues with it!

    To wit: The re-release is the same film but without the setting and dialogue white-on-black storyboards so common, necessary, and charming in silent films in general; and in this case, The Gold Rush specifically. They are replaced with painful narration by Charlie Chaplin himself. Much of the great over-dramatized, silent verbalizing in the film is also mouthed by Chaplin. While this doesn’t destroy the continuity of the film at all, it adds absolutely nothing and, to my mind, is insulting. It’s as if Chaplin feels that the 1942 & perhaps future viewers are not intellectually capable of understanding his original piece because it’s silent. The plot is not complex, the characters not multi-layered. it comes across as condescending. All of the charm is lost and this costs an otherwise brilliant film a full star. Chaplin’s tremendous actions as The Little Mime are diminished by Chaplin himself as he describes what he himself was doing in the film 17 years earlier while he’s doing it. Even the Dancing Rolls are verbally walked through in the re-release. BLECH!! This is worse than any re-release of a great film for 3D (enter Titanic) which is generally just a pointless catering to the younger generation’s philosophy that if it’s technology is new, it’s improved (and any readers out there who wonder why this isn’t true, think back to Ted Turner’s Colorizing the Classics project). In the 1942 re-release of The Gold Rush, Chaplin’s narrative and reverse lip syncing harms the film: It’s demeaning to the viewer and degenerative to the movie.

    So, let me revise my recommendation: Stream The Gold Rush on Netflix, where only the 1925 true silent film is available. Or rent the DVD & watch the original version. In fact, this is probably the better option so you can judge for yourself by watching both before you ultimately agree with me. But I’m pretty confident that anyone who rents Charlie Chaplin’s silent classic, The Gold Rush, will prefer the original 1925 version in great measure to the 1942 re-release.

  4. Wow, I can’t believe they’d want Chaplain to do a “voice over” of the original. Sort of reminds me of Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” and how when silent movies faded, her career faded too. Your comment about this being similar to re-releasing in 3D is spot on!

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