Charles Chaplin's 'Tramp' is the most recognizable fictional screen character. With the shortened mustache, over-sized shoes, a distinctive walk and baggy pants, he has made small guy as an icon. Chaplin's "Tramp" character, in all of his films, always had a dream: a good meal, a nice place to stay, and people to love him."The Gold Rush" (1925) is one of his quintessential silent films, where the 'Little Tramp' verges into the territory of social satire.
Gold Rush was made, when Chaplin read a book about the infamous Donner party tragedy involving cannibalism. This was Charlie's personal favorite film, by which he always wanted to be remembered. Emotionally strong and veritably hilarious in ways that transcend culture and time, it balances the witty and the sentimental and still finds plenty of room to inject the moments of underdog social commentary that were so crucial to Chaplin’s worldview.
The story takes place in 1898, Klondike, Alaska, where the gold rush was at its peak. The poor, but adventurous and hopeful tramp along with thousands of others, have come to Alaska to try his luck. Fatigued and cold, the tramp enters the remote log-cabin of a dangerous fugitive, Black Larsen (Tom Murray). Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), one of the lone prospector, shows up looking for food and shelter, but there's not much to be found in Larsen's place. The trio draw out lots to see who should embark into the storm to find help. Larsen loses the lot, the Tramp and Big Jim stay in the cabin.
The rest of the story involves Big Jim's discovery of a huge vein of gold, Big Jim and the Tramp's eventual partnership, and the Tramp's helpless falling in love with a beautiful dance-hall girl, Georgia. Compared to other silent features of Chaplin, The Gold Rush was an epic narrative and massive film-making endeavor; not only was it the longest of Chaplin’s features at that point, but also had a number of innovative special effects. Watch out for the greatest set-pieces like the Tramp eating the wick of a lantern; the famous scene of his eating his shoes; his waltz with Georgia in a saloon; his walking against the wind and being blown about; then finally, the heart-breaking New-year Eve dinner.
Chaplin's aesthetic view always springs from the figure at the center of the frame rather than the arrangement of objects within the frame. He once said, "I don't need interesting camera angles, I am interesting." Considering the qualities of his films he might be right. There are no great innovations in cinematography or editing, but it doesn't seem to matter as the action moves at a brisk pace. Most of the movie was shot in a studio, when the plans to film in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were scrapped because of bad weather.
Chaplin's art remains in the transformation of suffering into comedy, without trivializing the pain. In 'The Gold Rush', Chaplin's characters are surrounded by hunger, desperation, and poverty, which he transforms successfully by finding the universal strands of humor. This movie might seem sentimental in this, more cynical age, but he's never less sublime than when he reaches for grandiose highs in romance, coincidence, and naked emotion. Chaplin earns every bit of pathos he renders, during the sentimental streak of films.
Tragic, heart-breaking, and most of all funny, "The Gold Rush" remains quintessential Chaplin. It remains exquisitely charming today, as it was in 1925.
The Gold Rush - IMDb