As The Lone Prospector, the film follows Chaplin through several intertwined adventures based around the Klondike Gold Rush in the frozen North of Alaska. Seeking his share of the gold, the hapless tramp stumbles from one awkward situation to the next before finding both his fortune and love.
As an example of Chaplin's art, and as a starting point for anyone approaching the little master's work for the first time, the 1925 version of The Gold Rush is very nearly the perfect film. In revisiting it for a 1942 release, Chaplin amazingly managed to improve it, adding the musical score which received an Academy Award nomination and also an entertaining and complimentary narration. Chaplin also shortened the film by several minutes, tightening up the editing and changing one or two scenes, most notably the ending, removing a kissing scene and replacing it with more platonic hand holding.
Several moments in the film have now passed into cinematic lore. A scene where Chaplin acts out a dance with two forks stuck in bread rolls is one of the actor’s most famous and has been referenced in several other films, including The Three Stooges Pardon My Scotch. The familiar “slapstick” chases and interactions are here, but rarely were they choreographed with such beautiful simplicity as in the scenes in the shack with Big Jim (Mack Swain) and Black Larsen (Tom Murray).
Interestingly, the production of The Gold Rush is almost as renowned as the film itself. Lita Grey first met Chaplin on the set of The Kid when she was only 12 years old. Three years later she was among a host of actresses testing for the part lead part in The Gold Rush, and was originally cast before falling pregnant by the then-35-year-old Chaplin and being replaced by Georgia Hale. During production, which lasted a year and a half, their rushed marriage (hastily arranged to avoid Chaplin being charged with having sexual relations with a minor) fell apart amidst reports of his affairs with other women.
Aside from any off screen notoriety though, The Gold Rush remains a seminal work, and consistently appears on any assembled list of the greatest movies of all time. Chaplin's effortless style, evident in his balletic performance, is arguably equalled in his other films, most notably City Lights and The Great Dictator, but is never better than it is in The Gold Rush. This 1942 release is also significant for being the last of Chaplin’s great films. With a career in decline, and his popularity fading, it provides a fitting footnote to perhaps the most influential artist of the 20th century.
If you have even a passing interest in cinema then viewing The Gold Rush is not just essential, it’s compulsory.
THE GOLD RUSH / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHARLIE CHAPLIN / STARRING: CHARLIE CHAPLIN, MACK SWAIN, TOM MURRAY, HENRY BERGMAN, GEORGIA HALE / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH