In which we learn the lure of a fortune can lead a man to a hearty meal of leather and laces.
Ever since I first watched a Charlie Chaplin film on a blu ray sent through the post back in the heady days of LoveFilm, I’ve been a confirmed fan of his effortless direction of modern fairy tales. Starting with The Kid, then Modern Times, The Circus and later The Gold Rush I found myself drawn to keep seeking out more and more from the great silent maestro.
Unlike many of the movies I’ll watch this year, as I make my way through around fifty from the 1920s, a Chaplin film will be one I have seen before. Just as entertaining as when they were released, they’re a comfort too, reassuring me that there’s magic, grace and optimism left by artists all around us. Where you might dip into a favourite book or binge a familiar sitcom, my antidote to feeling alone, down or lost is to watch The Kid or The Gold Rush again.
Released in 1925, The Gold Rush was Chaplin’s second major success after The Kid and proved to be a major financial hit for the studio and the director himself. In 1942, Chaplin re-released the film with a new soundtrack and narration he wrote and recorded himself. He also made a few changes to the film which reduced the runtime by around seven minutes. I prefer the edited version. The pacing is improved, and the narration pushes the story even further into that of a modern fairy tale.
That tale follows a Tramp-like character known as the Lone Prospector as he sets out into the bitter and unforgiving snows of the Yukon in Canada to search for gold. Though personally unsuccessful, he becomes entwined in a standoff between the successful Big Jim and scurrilous Black Larsen. Trapped in a cabin during a storm, the three form an uneasy truce that’s pushed to breaking point when Larsen is sent to find help and the two remaining men run out of food.
Alongside the quest for the gold, which becomes ever harder to locate as the snow piles up, the Lone Prospector falls for a local dancer called Georgia. Although she doesn’t initially return his affections, she warms to the odd little tramp who’s a refreshing change from the men that usually make up her audiences. The Prospector finds himself both within striking distance and an eternity away from getting either gold or the girl.
The Gold Rush is similar to The Kid in the way it mixes drama and violence with tender moments of sweet humanity. Where it surpasses the earlier film is in its further development of the Tramp as a character. He’s a blend of a slapstick, ducking and diving his way in and out of the sights of a loaded gun, a surrealist boiling and eating his own boot, and a romantic shovelling the pavement clear to pay for a meal for his seemingly hopeless crush.
We really don’t make them like this anymore, but at least we once did and those films, like The Gold Rush, still endure to be there for us whenever we need them.
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