Film 9: The Gold Rush


The Gold Rush (1924) dir. Charlie Chaplin.  USA.

‘The Tramp—small, innocent, beleaguered, romantic, oblivious, resourceful, idealistic—lives inside everyone, but Charlie Chaplin made him manifest, with humor that is never cruel, never aggressive, and always speaks to our best selves. The Gold Rush takes the Tramp, in his longest outing to date, from rags to riches, thus combining the pleasure of laughing at his pratfalls with that of vicariously sharing in his eventual good fortune—and what could have more universal appeal?’

— Luc Sante

Abigail: This film has remarkable elements, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  One things does not lead to another, so the comedy doesn’t build, but starts and stops. For my money, Chaplin is not the crisp physical perfectionist that Keaton is (either as a performer or director), and this tumultuous story is probably greatly enhanced by his 1942 revision, where 20 minutes of the film are removed.   Ebert says that Chaplin demands his audience is charmed by him.  I agree, and am not charmed enough by the Little Tramp in this scenario to be swept into the film.  I will say, the little cabin and its three doors are used to spectacular effect.  Had the center section been excised, and replaces with more cabin antics in lieu of an unbalanced romance, this would probably be a much more memorable piece of work.  We are definitely on the cusp of the talkies.  Not only could dialogue have been used, it seemed to be actively missing in large chunks of the town scenes.  In short, there are admirable moments, but the picture as a whole is forgettable.

Forrest:  This is, weirdly, the first Chaplin film I’ve ever seen.  I liked it.  Not a lot, but quite a bit.  Not as much as “Safety Last!” and not as much as “Sherlock, Jr.”  Those movies were stories; “The Gold Rush” is a series of vignettes and an ending.  Of the Big Three silent comedians, I (so far) enjoy Chaplin the least.  At least based on this film, he relies on us liking him to sell the narrative.  Now, we do like him and so it works — but I wish we didn’t have to.  What I mean is, a person can dislike Harry Lloyd and still be harrowed by this climb to the top of the DeVore department store, and a person can dislike Buster Keaton and still be wowed by his breathtaking stunts — but if a person doesn’t like the Little Tramp, the movie’s pretty much sunk.  That said, there’s much here to enjoy.  The cabin, particularly, is one of the great set pieces in the movies, and the line of prospectors snaking up to the Chilkoot Pass is haunting and iconic.  I didn’t love “The Gold Rush,” but I enjoyed it, and I look forward to the next Chaplin film on the list.

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