Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Malcolm Waite
In an ever-cynical world, it can be easy to forget how much earnestness can make a difference in the formation and positive evolution of relationships. A trait rarely found in contemporary features but remained fully embraced by artists like Charlie Chaplin. The Gold Rush takes us on yet another adventure with his equally lucky and unlucky character to a highly entertaining and emotionally resonant degree.
Wandering through the snowy mountains of Alaska, a lone prospector (Charlie Chaplin) seeks shelter during a huge storm. He finds himself in the cabin of a criminal and tries to make it through while eventually meeting a lovely young lady he hopes to impress amidst many unruly male suitors.
A fierce proponent of silent films, especially in the rise of talkies, Charlie Chaplin’s tinkering with this feature serves as its own story but at its very core, The Gold Rush carries the torch of other Chaplin classics in putting The Tramp in precarious situations and narrowly avoiding death. It nearly becomes a game for Chaplin to find new ways to put himself near death to the point where audience members believe this will surely be the moment he dies and then successfully pull the rug. It works every time but through the filmmaking and the stakes involved, Chaplin wonderfully injects incredible physical comedy to it all. I mean, this feature has The Tramp trying to balance out a house on the literal edge of a cliff. Predicaments just do not get more precarious than that. Whether on the chase of a hungry housemate or surviving the brutal snow piling up outside, several obstacles appear.
The biggest one, however, remains the one of his heart when he meets Georgia (Georgia Hale). Not someone to mess around with, Hale captivates the screen but also encapsulates a sweetness running through many of Chaplin’s films. She’s a woman who can fully handle herself within the parameters of her world and eventually crosses paths with The Tramp in the most adorable of ways. She becomes what he fights for instead of the basic survival battle he must take on seemingly at every turn.
With enough warmth and fuzzies to heat up a city, the main attraction for most people when it comes to Chaplin films undoubtedly remains the physical comedy and set pieces. The Gold Rush comes jam-packed with the very first one coming from the impact of the snowstorm on The Tramp and the cabin he finds within his journey. With enough power to push him around, each sequence where doors open and toss around The Tramp encapsulates the type of comedy Chaplin produces at its finest. On top of having to deal with someone like Black Larsen (Tom Murray), this story becomes just as much about man versus nature as it does for man versus man. The conditions make a real difference, but through his direction, Chaplin nails just how cold it must have been for the characters of this feature. Not every film set in the snow captures this but the atmosphere in the cabin has this grisly and icy feeling to it, which only becomes more difficult when the lack of food makes these men desperate for any sort of nutrition.
From the famous scene of The Tramp cooking and eating a shoe out of hungry desperation to the chasing of The Tramp as envisioned by the chicken, this feature contains so many funny scenes outside of the physical. It demonstrates the cruelness of some characters only for them to be mocked by the narrative and the genuine earnestness of The Tramp. The comedy comes from their comeuppance because they treat a man they feel superior to based on appearance. One of the best ones comes from the brawl that necessarily ends with The Tramp swinging and an antagonist going down. The order to how it all occurs contains the comedy of the scene and further outlines what Chaplin tries to get through in his features, how you treat someone like The Tramp determines someone’s morality and therefore their outcome.
Chaplin’s decision, as a star and director, to always place himself in the humblest of positions as a character in his stories provides the comedy but says plenty about the people surrounding him. A little figure bringing comic relief barely having the ability to wear proper shoes. A morality play and The Gold Rush fully embraces it when he seeks shelter and someone line Black Larsen refuses to provide any refuge from the frigid icy winds. The fate he receives gives an answer to what Chaplin tries to evoke in his stories about scrappy underdogs. This contributes to what makes the ending of this feature so satisfying. The Tramp remains the same even under different circumstances and kindness paid at the humblest gets repaid ten times over in the future. A familiar formula but one that lands so well in this feature, only further attesting to the incredible impact of Chaplin’s filmmaking.
Everything flowing through The Gold Rush demonstrates the trademarks of what makes an excellent Chaplin film. It contains excellent physical comedy, thrilling set pieces, and an emotional undercurrent to truly bring it all home. Just tremendous filmmaking all across the board and serves as a continual reminder of what Chaplin brought to the world through his filmmaking, especially as the world transitioned from silent pictures to talkies. Nearing a point of no return, he used this story as a proper balance between the two thus creating the perfect medium to effectively tell this wonderfully captivating tale.