The Gold Rush

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Charlie Chaplin’s movies have encompassed almost every virtue that countless other movies have tried to conquer. Though his most underlying theme is love (as are so many other movies), his themes range from human nature to a mood that reflected the nation (and world) as a whole. In Modern Times we saw him lash out against the new wave of the future and how controlled we are by technology and mass production (glad we’re not like that anymore)! But in The Gold Rush, we see a very different message, albeit told in a manner that only Chaplin can tell it. Consistently ranked as one of the better movies ever made, The Gold Rush tells the story of a lone prospector on his search for the great American dream: money. Again, however, this is just the story on the surface and there’s a few more layers to dig through to get the true meaning of the film. As with his other films, Chaplin returns as his loveable and familiar character of “The Tramp” and is instantly recognizable in his derby hat, suit, tie, baggy pants and cane (lest we forget the mustache). We know we’re in for something a bit different when Chaplin’s on screen…

Like many of Chaplin’s other movies, this doesn’t have a large cast, only six members make up the “speaking” roles (though the film was silent, it was re-issued in 1942 with Chaplin doing the narration). We meet The Lone Prospector (Chaplin) as he’s veered off from the thousands of others who are trying to strike it rich in the Alaskan Klondike. This was no mere exaggeration, as the true “Gold Rush” was said to be something similar to what was shown in the movie. He meets up with Black Larsen (Tom Murray) who, as it turns out, is a fugitive from the law. Another prospector ends up crashing their party by the name of “Big” Jim McKay (Mack Swain). The three are trapped in a shack, tired and hungry and are about to go crazy. If they don’t kill each other first! During the filming, Chaplin read the story of the Donner Party, a story of a group who traveled West in search of a better life, but were caught in the mountains and resorted to cannibalism for survival. This was just the inspiration that he needed to finish The Gold Rush. Though comic in nature, the men are tempted to eat one another as “Big” Jim sees the lone prospector as a giant chicken from time to time.

Lest we forget, Chaplin’s movies always have a woman in them, usually a good-looking one at that. In this case it’s Georgia (Georgia Hale). A dancer at a local nightclub, she’s tired of the life she leads and longs for more. Through sheer fate, she meets the lone prospector and he’s fallen instantly in love with her. Naturally, though, she has no idea and when she arrives late to his New Year’s celebration for her; she realizes his feelings. While The Gold Rush touches on many subjects, this is a more light-hearted look at what really happened. Just as his other movies have some rather classic scenes, this does too. The bear who follows him through the mountains (though he never is seen by Chaplin), the house teetering on the edge of the cliff and who can forget one of Chaplin’s most indellable images ever, when he created the roll dance (two forks in dinner rolls). Though Chaplin’s films aren’t that dated, this might be the most dated of his more popular ones. He doesn’t end up walking off into the sunset in the literal sense of the word, but let’s just say that the film ends with a big smile on everyone’s face. True to the end, this is yet another jewel in Chaplin’s crown.

Video: How does it look?

Naturally, a film made in 1925 will be shown in a ratio of 1.33:1 as widescreen movies were still about twenty years down the road. This is now the second edition of this classic and this boasts a much-improved transfer. Warner has conglomerated with the Chaplin estate to get access to new prints to all of his movies and the result is stunning. The black and whites of the film look strong, giving the picture a very “real” look to it. Having seen some films from this era, it’s amazing how good this does look. There isn’t any edge enhancement to speak of (no pun intended) and the resulting image if very vivid. Additionally, the film is only 69 minutes long and it’s the sole occupant on the first disc of this two-disc set, so it’s plenty of room for bit rate. No real complaints here, it’s not up to standards like that of Citizen Kane, but it’s not too shabby! Additionally, there are two versions of the movie, the 1925 and the 1942 re-release and both transfers are identical.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio has again been re-mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and again I refuse to watch a movie from this era in this sound. I did, however, listen to a majority of it and it does sound very good, though I suppose I consider myself a “purist” and prefer the original track. The 1942 version of the film was the one reviewed here as it contains Chaplin’s narration (who is very good, by the way) and he even fills in for some voices from time to time. Sounding much like a Carney barker, he does give a bit more humor to the movie than we might expect. The soundtrack sounds clear and very clean as it’s like hearing it for the first time. Naturally, this can’t compare to any of the movies of today, but then again, it’s not supposed to.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Though a two-disc edition, this is fairly light on supplements. I suppose the biggest draw is that we get the original 1925 version of the film along with it’s 1942 re-release. The 1942 version is housed on the first disc while the other version is on the second disc with the rest of the supplements. Along with the standard extras that are found on the rest of the Chaplin Collection (trailers, photo and poster galleries and scenes from the other ten movies in the Chaplin Collection) we do get another 6 minute introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson. He sets the stage and gives us a brief history of the movie. There’s a 26 minute documentary on Chaplin entitled “Chaplin Today” in which some history of the film and the influences that he (Chaplin) has had on filmmakers today. Not nearly as loaded as Modern Times but another great movie and it’s given great treatment on DVD, the second time around.

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