The Greatest films of all time: 12.The Gold Rush (1925)

Introduction:

The Gold Rush is a 1925 American silent comedy film written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The film though begins with stating to be a “comedy drama”, it is more comedy romantic. Chaplin in his usual tramp character, from realism with a few tears of “The Kid” moves on to some adventure of gold explorer or greed and romance. Chaplin had said several times that this was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered. This great film that is still on the many list of greatest films of all time, at the 1958 Brussels first World Fair after, was rated by many film critics and filmmakers, the second greatest film in history, behind only Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship of Potemkin. While in “The Kid”, Chaplin is more an adult, a father figure and a rescuer, in “The Gold Rush”, he himself is more like a kid, acts as funny, and with his acrobatic and chuckling moves makes the greedy gold seekers of the time, look ridiculous. While in “The Kid”, he is a savior of a poor little infant left on the street by his mother and raises him, in “The Gold Rush”, he is the savior of love and romance that to him is more vital to life than gold. Before discussing more about the film, Chaplin himself will be explored further.

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Charlie Chaplin: One and only one 

A century ago before comedy becomes making fun of others to put smile and laughter on people’s lips, there was a Charlie Chaplin whose comedy went beyond laughter and also portrayed the reality of life in a funny way. Chaplin method was to criticize the system and the society instead of a harsh and direct way, through laughter, that worked better on people’s minds all over the world. He was the only one in the history of cinema who made more than the producing and distributing studios did.(United Artists made $1 million from The Gold Rush, while Chaplin himself made a profit of $2 millions.)

Chaplin learned his method initially by his mother, a stage ballet dancer who entertained him as a child by sitting at the window and mimicking passers-by: “it was through watching her that I learned not only how to express emotions with my hands and face, but also how to observe and study people.” Thus people’s characters were important to Chaplin, so that he learned from them and he in turn gave back to them, his comedy films that were well liked and felt their own internationally. Chaplin’s years with the Fred Karno company had a formative effect on him as an actor and filmmaker. Until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator, Chaplin never shot from a completed script. Many of his early films began with only a vague premise – for example “Charlie enters a health spa” or “Charlie works in a pawn shop.” He then had sets constructed and worked with his stock company to improvise gags and almost always working the ideas out on film. As ideas were accepted and discarded, a narrative structure would emerge, frequently requiring Chaplin to reshoot an already-completed scene that might have otherwise contradicted the story. Producing films in this manner meant Chaplin took longer to complete his pictures than almost any other filmmaker at the time. Delaying the process further was Chaplin’s rigorous perfectionism. Because he personally funded his films, Chaplin was at liberty to strive for this goal and shoot as many takes as he wished. The number was often excessive, for instance 53 takes for every finished take in The Kid. For The Immigrant, a 20 minute-short, Chaplin shot 40,000 feet of film – enough for a feature-length.

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Chaplin who had been popular and well-liked by the viewers world-wide from the start, was not sufficiently recognized by the critics and film business after later on. Then almost universally he was called “the single most important artist produced by the cinema”, “still its most universal icon”, “a towering figure in world culture”, the Tramp persona “the most eloquent, richly comedic expressions of the human spirit” in movie history, one of the “100 Most important people of the 20th century for the laughter he brought to millions”, and because he “more or less invented global recognizability and helped turn an industry into an art”. As a filmmaker, Chaplin is considered a pioneer and one of the most influential figures of cinema who “changed not only the imagery of cinema, but also its sociology and grammar” and has been called as important to the development of comedy as a genre as D.W. Griffith was to drama. He was the first to popularise feature-length comedy and to slow down the pace of action, adding pathos and subtlety to it. Although his work is mostly classified as slapstick, Chaplin’s drama “A Woman of Paris” (1923) was a major influence on Ernst Lubitsch’s film “The Marriage Circle” (1924) and thus played a part in the development of “sophisticated comedy”. Above all Chaplin’s innovations that we see many in “The Gold Rush” for the first time were “rapidly assimilated to become part of the common practice of film craft.”

From the Greed of Gold Rush fight to Love fight:

In “The Gold Rush” Chaplin like his other films, has a social story content to tell us in laughter. It is the end of 19th century (1896-99) and the greedy gold prospectors rash to Klondike of Yukon in north-western of Canada and southeast of Alaska. Chaplin as a tramp and lone prospector who does not look to care for gold runs into the big Jim and Black Larsen, a wanted criminal who are both greedily after gold discovery. The big Jim has just found an enormous gold deposit on his parcel of land when a blizard strikes. The Lone prospector lost in the same blizzard, stumbles into the cabin of Black Larsen, who tries to throw him out when Jim also stumbles inside. Larsen tries to scare both out using his shotgun but is overpowered by Jim and the three agree to an uneasy truce where they all can stay in the cabin.

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When the storm is taking so long that food is running out, the three draw lots for who will have to go out into the blizzard to obtain some food, that Larsen loses and leaves the cabin. While outside looking for food, he encounters Jim’s gold deposit and decides to ambush him there when Jim returns. Meanwhile, Chaplin remaining in the cabin with the big Jim, still so desperate and hungry, comes with the idea of cooking one of his shoe and eat. Later, Jim gets delirious out of hunger, imagines Chaplin as a giant chicken and attacks him, where a bear enters the cabin and is killed, supplying them with food. After the storm subsides, both leave the cabin, the Prospector continuing on to the next gold boom town while Jim returns to his gold deposit. There, he is knocked out by Larsen with a shovel. While fleeing with some of the mined gold, Larsen is swept to his death in an avalanche. Jim recovers consciousness and wanders into the snow, but he has lost his memory from the blow. When he returns to the town, his memory has been partly restored and he remembers that he had found a large gold deposit, that the deposit was close to a certain cabin and that he had stayed in the cabin with the Prospector. But he does neither know the location of the deposit nor of the cabin. So, he goes looking for the Prospector, hoping that he still knows the location of the cabin.

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The Prospector arrives at the town and encounters Georgia, a dance hall girl. To irritate Jack, a ladies’ man who is molesting her and pestering her for a dance, she instead decides to dance with “the most deplorable looking tramp in the dance hall”, the Prospector, who instantly falls in love with her. After encountering each other again, she accepts his invitation for a New Year’s Eve dinner, but does not take it seriously and soon forgets about it. While waiting for her to arrive to the dinner, the Prospector imagines entertaining her with a dance of bread rolls on forks. When she does not arrive until midnight, he walks alone through the streets, desperate. At that moment, she remembers his invitation and decides to visit him. Finding his home empty but seeing the meticulously prepared dinner and a present for her, she has a change of heart and prepares a note for him in which she asks to talk to him. When the Prospector is handed the note, he goes searching for Georgia. But at the same moment, Jim finds him and drags him away to go search for the cabin, giving the Prospector only enough time to shout to Georgia that he soon will return to her as a millionaire. Jim and the Prospector find the cabin and stay for the night. Overnight, another blizzard blows the cabin half over a cliff right next to Jim’s gold deposit. The next morning the cabin rocks dangerously over the cliff edge while the two try to escape. At last Jim manages to get out and pull the Prospector to safety right when the cabin falls down the chasm.

One year later both have become wealthy, but the Prospector has not been able to find Georgia. They return to the contiguous united States on a ship on which, unknown to them, where Georgia is also travelling. When the Prospector agrees to don his old clothes for a photograph, he falls down the stairs, encountering Georgia once more. After she mistakes him for a stowaway and tries to save him from the ship’s crew, the misunderstanding is cleared up and both are happily reunited.

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Chaplin’s innovative scenes of cooking and eating his shoe, the illusion of big Jim seeing him as a big chicken, the bread roll dance while waiting to have dinner with Georgia, the cabin rocking over the cliff edge have all become prototype scenes in cinema, adapted by other film makers many times. While “Greed” a year earlier and “The treasure of Sierra Madre” by John Huston and other films years after showed the dark and futile side of the greed for gold, Chaplin depicted it well in a historical comedy and conveyed artfully the search for love will do man better than gold!   

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The Gold Rush was a huge success in the US and worldwide. It is the fifth-highest-grossing silent film in cinema history, taking in more than $4,250,001 at the box office in 1926. Chaplin proclaimed at the time of its release that this was the film for which he wanted to be remembered. Even some critics at the time praised the film such as The New York Times “Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness. It is the outstanding gem of all Chaplin’s pictures, as it has more thought and originality than even such masterpieces of mirth as The Kid and Shoulder Arms.” Variety also declared the film as “the greatest and most elaborate comedy ever filmed, and will stand for years as the biggest hit in its field, just as The Birth of a Nation still withstands the many competitors in the dramatic class.”

Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance considers “The Gold Rush” to be Chaplin’s greatest work of the silent-film era, and writes “The Gold Rush is arguably his greatest and most ambitious silent film; it was the longest and most expensive comedy produced up to that time. The film contains many of Chaplin’s most celebrated comedy sequences, including the boiling and eating of his shoe, the dance of the rolls, and the teetering cabin. However, the greatness of The Gold Rush does not rest solely on its comedy sequences but on the fact that they are integrated so fully into a character-driven narrative. Chaplin had no reservations about the finished product. Indeed, in the contemporary publicity for the film, he is quoted, ‘This is the picture that I want to be remembered by.'”

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In 1942, Chaplin released a new version of The Gold Rush, modifying the original silent 1925 film by adding a recorded musical score, adding a narration which he recorded himself, and tightening the editing, which reduced the film’s running time by several minutes. The film was also shortened by being run at “sound speed”, i.e. 24 frames per second; like most silent movies, it was originally shot and exhibited at a slower speed. As noted above, Chaplin also changed some plot points. Besides removing the kiss at the end, another change eliminated a subplot in which the Lone Prospector is tricked into believing Georgia is in love with him by Georgia’s paramour, Jack. The Gold Rush was the first of Chaplin’s classic silent films that he converted to a sound version in this fashion, in 1942. The “roll dance” that the Little Tramp character performs in the film is considered one of the most memorable scenes in film history. The bit was briefly homaged in the 1935 Three Stooges film “Pardon my Scotch”. Anna Karina’s character in Bande a part references it before the famous dance scene. In more recent times, it was replicated by Johnny Depp’s character in the 1993 film Benny and Joon; in the 1994 The Simpsons episode “Lady Bouvier’s Lover” “; and by Amy Adam’s ‘s character in The Muppets. 

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Conclusion:

In closing remarks “The Gold Rush” of Charlie Chaplin as he wished is remembered very well not by this website but has been recognized as one of the greatest films of all time by many film critics, historians and other filmmakers and above all still by the people of the world. In the first international film poll in 1958 in Brussels, “The Gold Rush” was selected as the second best film of all time by many film critics and film makesrs including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Vittorio De Sica, Satyajit Ray, etc. 

Chaplin in “The Gold Rush” once again despite still holding to the same character of “The Tramp” and at the time of silent films, applying slapstick comedy, he goes beyond the laughter and shows us the greed for gold and material possession leads to loss of lives and missing on the real gem of life that is love! To show all these and at the same time makes up laugh, Chaplin invents more comedy techniques single-handedly that influences others in films and other forms of art for years to come. Now more than 90 years later, this great work one more time, will be redefined based on the following criteria:   

  1. Originality: “The Gold Rush” is original in the subject of story content, and its multiple innovative comedy techniques. A year after the “Greed” of von Stroheim and 6 years after the end of the world war I, and loss of many lives in greed of materialistic possession, Chaplin’s The Gold Rush reminds us all the fact of the end of greed in laughter. This was while Hollywood still was producing glamorous films in oblivion to the real world. Chaplin with The Gold Rush strived to change the world in hunger of possession of gold, monetary things and supremacy and prevent further loss of lives at individual level and the world level and preventing another world war, all in comedy and replace it with love. That is very original other than the comedy techniques that was used in the film that once again was universal language that we will discuss briefly in the following. 
  2. Technicality: The technicality of “The Gold Rush”, as somewhat mentioned above, is in its several innovative scenes such as cooking and eating shoe, the illusion of big Jim seeing Chaplin as a big chicken, the bread roll dance, and the cabin rocking over the cliff edge. These scenes have been paid homage to, adapted and remembered in later films and elsewhere, while no one dared or did not want to copy Chaplin, or could not. Chaplin’s comedy techniques in The Gold Rush and his other films are universal language, understandable by all people of the world and timeless, still laughable by a few generations later. The uniqueness of The Gold Rush and other Chaplin’s films are in acting and innovative acting without much of camera work or techniques and else!    
  3. Impact Factor: “The Gold Rush” has been adapted in the subject story in other money or gold seeking films of different genres, such as “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” of John Huston, or any films with the subject of love is better than gold or materialistic possession. Other than a few paid homages to the innovative scenes in the movies in other films, no one has copied Chaplin’s in the film due to the uniqueness of him. But the film has had impact on other films in the fact that with acting and acting innovation alone, a great film could be created. 
  4. Survival: “The Gold Rush” and Chaplin as mentioned above have universal and timeless language and power, so it still could be seen and entertained while learning a lesson in life.

 

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