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With: Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, Malcolm Waite
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 96
Date: 06/26/1925

The Gold Rush (1925)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Them Thar Hills

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"I don't need interesting camera angles," Charlie Chaplin once said, "I am interesting." He was right; Chaplin's artistry always springs from the figure at the center of the frame rather than the arrangement of objects within the frame. Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character, with twirling cane and little moustache -- and his too-tight coat and hat and too-loose shoes and pants -- was always an outsider longing to get in. He spent every second of every film looking for the Dream: a good meal, a nice place to stay, and people to love him.

His expensive, mega-production The Gold Rush was one of his purest comedy-fantasies, with humor coming from places of discord: the little tramp and his big cabin-mate (Mack Swain), the humble tramp and the beautiful dance hall girl (Georgia Hale), the poor tramp and the high stakes he's after. Likewise, Chaplin dealt with these off-kilter dualities all throughout his career: art versus commercialism, directing versus acting. This constant balancing fed his career, and his best work.

In The Gold Rush, Chaplin the prospector spends a good deal of his time stuck in a cabin, freezing, and without food. In one of his most brilliant set-pieces, his companion sees him turning into a chicken. In another, he cooks, and they dine on, a shoe (made, apparently of black licorice). I'm always amazed and tickled by the scene in which Swain and Tom Murray wrestle over possession of a shotgun; Chaplin scrambles all over the room, but the barrel always remains squarely pointed at him. The film's finest moment, however, comes during a fantasy sequence, when Charlie imagines entertaining Georgia on New Year's Eve with his beautiful "dance of the dinner rolls" (which is even more remarkable in context).

The Criterion Collection's The Gold Rush Blu-ray brings us not only the original silent version, restored by Kevin Brownlow, but also Chaplin's 1942 re-release complete with his own musical score and voice-over narration. Minus intertitles (and a few other shots), this talking version runs only 72 minutes, while the original runs 88 minutes. The talkie version is now considered the "definitive" version, as per Chaplin's wishes. (I showed this version to my six year-old son -- he had no subtitles to read -- and he loved it.) Extras include a new audio commentary for the original version by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, several featurettes, and trailers. The liner notes booklet contains a new essay by critic Luc Sante, and James Agee's review of the 1942 re-release.

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