Written & Directed by Charles Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin and I have a strange history. As a giant film legend, and a comedic one at that, I fell as though I took way too long to unearth even my first Chaplin classic. And when I did, I took an unconventional route and made that first experience a talkie. I loved that one, The Great Dictator, but it still wasn’t silent classic Chaplin. Then I took another year or two to uncover City Lights. Now both films sit on my Top 100 list and I have made The Gold Rush my 3rd Chaplin film. The gold rush has always been an era that fascinated me and a topic I’ve felt is perfect as a setting for a film, yet I know of almost none that tackle it other than this film, made all of 86 years ago!
This is not the 49ers gold rush, instead it is the gold rush in the frozen Yukon Territory, which is fine, I played Yukon Trail in addition to Oregon Trail as a kid too. Chaplin plays his famous tramp, a lone prospector in the Klondike, stranded in the cold with two others, including Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) who has just uncovered a stake ripe for the picking. But a terrible storm causes McKay to lose his location. Meanwhile, the tramp heads to town and mistakenly falls in love with Georgia (Georgia Hale). But the tramp and McKay soon find their way back to the heap of gold, and the new multi-millionaire soon finds his way to the heart of Georgia, who doesn’t yet know his fortune.
Chaplin is there again with his fantastic physical humor and there are some really great sequences where the timing of both the comedic delivery and the overall choreography of the scene are downright brilliant. I think this era of filmmaking, between Chaplin and Buster Keaton, who I have regrettably only seen in the brilliant The General, is a style of humor that is no longer in vogue, yet is universally funny, which begs the question why it is still not around. Other than Jim Carrey, who I love and thought his return to physical humor in Yes Man was brilliant, even if I am in the minority on him, other than Carrey, there are not many physical comedians left in this day and age. The comedy world has shifted to the shocking, immature style, which I find funny as well, but I think it is being overdone when there are way too many underutilized styles.
However, I was not completely engrossed by this film. I felt the story was mediocre at best, minor Chaplin with shades of his true brilliance sprinkled throughout. The romance is a nice little thing and boy do I ever sympathize with the tramp. I may regret saying this, and I promise I mean it in a different manner than it sounds, but I see a lot of myself in the tramp, when it comes to the romantic side. And yet I felt like his romance with Georgia, while nice, was not overly great and in fact reminded me of his later film City Lights, wherein I would argue he perfected this type of romantic story. The rest of the characters, Big Jim McKay and Black Larsen were both a bit of a bore, acting merely as a means for Chaplin to perform is bit.
Of the three Chaplin films I have now seen this is the earliest, released in 1925. I don’t know if that matters or not, but I really feel like at this point Chaplin is still perfecting his style because I saw glimpses of the shear brilliance in his other two films I have seen. It just never fully comes together in this one to make it a stand out film. There are hilarious scenes in it and some really great ideas, and maybe I was pumping myself up because it was not only more Chaplin, but also because it was finally (well actually it was released in the early years of film) tackling the subject of the gold rush. But the finished product was a good comedy with some good romance, but nothing earth shattering, nothing like the Top 100 material I have previously seen from Chaplin.