‘Gold Rush’ remains a monumental, historic comedy
By Diane Carson
Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 masterpiece “The Gold Rush,” his own personal favorite, has lost none of its spectacular appeal. Based on the tragic Donner party, stranded through the harsh winter of 1846-47 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on their way to California, survivors reportedly turned to cannibalism. Chaplin daringly took this as a fit subject for his comedy.
For this production, he took his entire cast and crew to the Sierras to shoot. Disappointed with the results, a perfectionist, Chaplin returned to L.A. and reshot the narrative that revolves around the Little Tramp Charlie as a prospector in the Klondike, determined to strike it rich. Iconic scenes include Charlie trapped in a blizzard with the starving Big Jim McKay (a hulking Mack Swain) who hungrily hallucinates Charlie as a chicken that McKay chases around their cabin. Equally classic is Charlie resourcefully cooking and serving them his shoe (actually licorice) to assuage their hunger.
There’s also Charlie pursued by a bear, Charlie’s romantic scenes with a luminous Georgia (Georgia Hale), his hilarious snow shoveling job, and, my favorite, the Oceana roll that he dreams on New Year’s Eve. The familiar pathos, the Little Tramp against the world, punctuates the humor adding Chaplin’s endearing emotional elements.
As always, Chaplin’s perfect nonverbal performance for the camera is on full display, no scene or joke extended one second longer than needed. Each is admirably economical, focused, and brilliantly conceived. The version of “The Gold Rush” screening one night only, Sunday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m. in Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium, is the restored 1925 original silent film. As a bonus, with an extra charge, patrons may enjoy a 1920s themed meal before the film, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., on Webster’s campus. For more information, you may visit the film series website or you may call 314-246-7525.