***Warning - May Contain Spoilers***
A tale of hardship, friendship and love in turn of the century Alaska - Chaplin continues to win over.
Following the standard rule of Hollywood, "The Gold Rush" consists of three pretty distinct thirds, almost separate shorts in their own right. The first and final thirds are set in the wilds of Alaska and are certainly the most unforgettable. The film opens as Chaplin is trying to make his fortune in prospecting but like the thousands who ventured into the north unprepared, the going is tough and he is forced to take shelter with Big Jim McKay, a fellow prospector, and Black Larson, a murderer on the run and out to find his own treasure. After fighting for the right to the shack, they agree to share the cabin but soon fall prey to their hunger after days of storms and in deciding who must go on the hunt, Larson draws the low card. When Larson doesn't return, the duo's hunger creates two ingenious scenes - Big Jim's hallucinations of The Tramp as a giant chicken with a hilarious chase ensuing, and the classic shoe-eating routine, something Chaplin carries out with the manner and grace of a lord. His own search for perfection resulted in near tragedy when after innumerous takes eating the licorice boot, he was rushed to hospital with stomach pains. These scenes show his comedic essence - slapstick that couldn't be timed more perfectly with an atomic clock, his ingenuity and creativity (who else would follow a paper compass) and his determination to overcome everything from angry killers and bears to the freezing cold and hunger.
The central segment is set in a small prospecting town and introduces us to Chaplin's love interest, Georgia, a sassy city girl torn between her mean, strong and overzealous lover and the sweet and besotted Tramp. Initially, Georgia and her friends don't take The Tramp's affection seriously and play a trick on him by promising to attend his new year's eve party. This episode proves the most heart-breaking yet delightful as it shows us The Tramp's devotion to his sweetheart with the hard work and detail that goes into the planning, which ultimately ends with him watching the town's festivities from his cabin through empty eyes. The only consolidation is found when he dreams that the night pans out exactly as it is supposed to, culminating in the spectacular 'Oceana Roll Dance.' The only way to describe the beauty of this piece of cinematic history would be to say it would be as hard as explaining the elgance of the Mona Lisa. Just watch it!
How the film ends I will not divulge, however, I will say that the near-death experience involving a cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff is as worthy a climactic scene as this masterpeice deserves - hilarious, wonderfully executed and including some special effects that would look good in a movie 60 years on. This has become one of my favourite films a mere 86 years after it was released. If you have never seen a silent film, make Chaplin your first - either this or "The Kid." Most people would recognise his Tramp even if they've never been near one of his films, he's the Ronald McDonald of cinema: you know who he is even if you've never eaten at McDonald's. A character for the working class that so many can associate with - loyal, tireless, loving and with a charming ignorance, The Tramp makes "The Gold Rush" unforgettable and timeless.
Movie - 8
Film - 7