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Charlie Chaplin's lovable, luckless Tramp waddles humorously in derby hatand cane across the icy cliffs of the Sierra Nevadas in the prospectingcomedy The Gold Rush (1925).
Followed by a grizzly bear and surrounded by signs marking the graves of deadprospectors, the Tramp stumbles across a cabin inhabited by the dangerouscriminal Black Larson (played by former vaudevillian Tom Murray). The pairhole up in the midst of a blizzard, starving for food of any kind. Whenanother prospector, the kindly Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) -- who has discovered an enormous gold nugget in the mountains -- joins the snowboundpair, the trio cuts cards to determine which one will head out into thewilderness in search of food.
One of the typically inventive, whimsical films of Charlie Chaplin's long,prolific career in Hollywood, The Gold Rush wrests comedy from thestruggles of this often helpless waif in the brutal American wilds. TheTramp is so slight, each time Larson opens the door to his cabin a chillyblast blows him across the room, and out the back door. In one hilariousvignette, the starving Tramp and McKay boil a shoe (which was actually madeof licorice for the scene) for dinner, consuming the shoelaces likespaghetti, and licking each tack clean like a scrumptious bone. The scenereportedly took three shooting days and 63 takes, and the licorice prop'slaxative effect momentarily incapacitated Chaplin and Swain. Just as amusing asthat brilliant gag was its comic echo in the film - for the rest of thefilm the Tramp wears a burlap cloth wrapped around his shoeless right footto reiterate his pathetic predicament.
There are also scenes of surprising tenderness in The Gold Rush, like the Tramp'sinfatuation with a lovely dance hall girl, Georgia (Georgia Hale), who offersa beautiful respite from the hardships of the cold and hunger. Hardened byher work, Georgia first mocks the Tramp's affection, then finds her ownheart melted by his boyish ardor.
The Gold Rush was altered by Chaplin in 1941 during the sound era toinclude a new orchestral score composed by Chaplin, and the deadpan wit ofChaplin's voice-over narration adds another element of comedy to thisrevised version.
The Gold Rush was Chaplin's first starring role as a collaborator inthe United Artists company, formed six years previously with DouglasFairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. The inspiration for The GoldRush was said to be twofold. Breakfasting with husband and wifeFairbanks and Pickford, Chaplin was intrigued by stereograph photos ownedby the pair which depicted the Klondike gold rush. Chaplin was alsofascinated by the tragic events of the Donner party, who in 1846, whiletraversing the United States in the snow, had to resort to cannibalism tokeep from starving to death (reportedly the survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions). Part of the filming for The Gold Rush, in fact, took place close to where the Donner party camped.
A perfectionist always striving for the perfect end result, Chaplin madeThe Gold Rush at the enormous cost of over $900,000 and filmed underoften physically brutal, rustic conditions in the Nevada town of Truckee.Testifying to the primitive working conditions, the film's first leadinglady, Lita Grey, complained her hotel room featured a chamber pot and threecuspidors.
Chaplin had initially planned to feature Grey, the child star of his 1921film The Kid, in the role of the dance hall girl at $75 dollars aweek. But Chaplin found himself forced to change direction when heimpregnated the 16-year-old Grey and her belly began to betray evidence ofher condition. In a dramatic about-face, Chaplin averted a potential chargeof statutory rape by marrying Grey and casting Georgia Hale in the role. A formerMiss America contestant who used her beauty contest money to move toHollywood, Hale was cast in the role of Georgia after auditions that hadpitted her against such other talented beauties as Carole Lombard (thenJean Peters).
The Gold Rush has been cited by the International Film Jury as thesecond greatest film of all time (after Battleship Potemkin, 1925),and Chaplin said it was the film he would most like to be remembered by.Today The Gold Rush remains one of cinema's enduring comedy classics,starring, written and directed by the twentieth century's first mediasuperstar.
Producer/Director: Charles Chaplin
Screenplay: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Roland Totheroh
Production Design: Charles D. Hall
Music: Charles Chaplin
Principal Cast: Charles Chaplin (Lone Prospector), Georgia Hale (Georgia), Mack Swain(Big Jim McKay), Tom Murray (Black Larson).
by Felicia Feaster