The Gold Rush (1925 / 1942)
Not rated, because the movie is remarkably old. Charles Chaplin usually is pretty family friendly and The Gold Rush is no exception. There's a moment where he kicks a dog. If you ever want a film class turn on you faster, show them a scene where the tramp kicks a dog.
DIRECTOR: Charles Chaplin
I like the fact that I have another Charlie Chaplin movie on my list. It gives my film blog more credibility. I always get weirdly bummed when I add another movie from 2017 to my film index. Sure, it means that I'm keeping up with the Joneses and I'm all topical and stuff. But I love classic film and I feel like I'm a complete hack when I have movie after movie of just trash. I mean, I'm elbow deep in Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Thank goodness I have time for what might be considered Chaplin's greatest film.
I don't think it's Chaplin's greatest film. I really like it and I want to watch the complete 1925 version. (I started the 1925 version for the kids, but the print was garbage so I continued with the '42 version. Then I watched the '42 version in its entirety.) But Chaplin had such an amazing career. I am genuinely wondering why The Gold Rush gets all of the attention. My favorites on the list are The Kid and Modern Times. Those movies are near perfect for me. While The Gold Rush is absolutely wonderful and a joy to watch, there are some jokes that don't click nearly as well as they should. I should really read criticism on this movie. I hear so much about it and it was always a crime that I hadn't gotten around to it. But I realized what makes Chaplin work on a level that perhaps Keaton didn't. (I really love Keaton and I'm low-key watching Sherlock, Jr. right now, so don't start ripping my page apart yet.) Chaplin works in the melancholy moments. He knows how to juxtapose two very separate tones to create a specific emotion resulting in catharsis. I'm sure that the Germans have a word for this emotion, but that darkness followed by immediate hilarity is something very special. It sticks with me better than Steamboat Bill Jr. did. (I'm so sorry, Mr. Keaton. You are still an absolute genius to me and I will never hold a candle to your worst work.) The tramp is such a pitiable character because he means so well. After watching the movie Chaplin, I perhaps have a little less respect for the man, but the character is so pitiable.
I'm going to talk about Georgia and the girls. My goodness, Mr. Chaplin. Who hurt you? Seriously, I was just bummed for the entire New Years Eve scene. Like, I was down in the dumps for the entire five minute sequence. I don't think I've been that bummed by a movie for a while, and I watch all kinds of morose stuff. I find it interesting that even in the tramp's fantasy, he still is the underdog who can't have anything work out exactly right. But his fractured fantasy was still better than the reality he faced regularly. That's some stuff right there. OBVIOUS SPOILER:The whole thing works out for him. He doesn't freeze to death (which I simply assumed, but this movie hints at a weird darkness behind the funniness, so who am I to make that call?). Chaplin might be the best at pulling the audience into a low low before bringing them to an unreasonable high again at the end of the movie. The lows in The Gold Rush aren't end of the world, but they are pathetic in the true meaning of the word. I will say that this, despite being the A plot of the movie, is only a small section of the film itself. Much of the movie, like Chaplin's other films, are a series of interludes that are mini-segments loosely related to one another. The movie really starts with its B-plot. I thought the B-plot was going to be the main plot of the film, but it kind of disappears shy of a deus ex machina / deus ex Big Jiminna. The movie gets really melodramatic when Chaplin isn't on screen, involving a shootout and murder in the snow.
But I might be stating the obvious. While the balance of melancholy and humor make the movie somewhat special, the most impressive thing about the whole thing is the physical humor. (I will say that the '42 edition weirdly works with the narration. I'd love to be the guy who was the purist and swears by the intertitles, but the pacing is almost better with the narration. The narrator for the '42 version is pretty great.) Chaplin does things that I question how it was done. Some of these moments are simply from Chaplin being very limber and in control of his body. But these moments really shouldn't be ignored. There's a scene where the tramp pretends to be frozen so someone can carry him into the house. It's a simple scene of Chaplin lying outside stiff as a board and maintaining that as someone deadlifts him under his armpit. While there is not a ton of "how did they do that?", the scene is still pretty impressive. But then there are moments that are amazing special effects for 1925. I know, we can all see the string now and the fact that it is a model, but the entire sequence with the house falling off the cliff is amazing. Really, anything with the snow lodge is very impressive. I think of the very intricate "wind blowing the door open" sequence and I still sit impressed. I keep looking at the floor on the blu-ray to see if I can see that it is a belt or Chaplin is just inventing the reverse moonwalk sixty years ahead of schedule. But Chaplin is the true definition of the auteur here. He is running the whole show with writing, directing, and performing. When a movie looks like The Gold Rush, directing really means choreography and that choreography is tight. There isn't a loose string to pull anywhere on this film. If I had to say that there were any weak spots (and I still contend that there really aren't any), I'd have to say that Big Jim and Black Larsen look a little too similar with their builds, outfits, and facial hair. The first time I watched the lo-res print of the '25 edition, I had no idea what was going on based on the constantly changing motivation of what I thought was the same guy. (I know that they were in a room together, but that is very brief.)
Can I also talk about the chicken scene? Big Jim tries to eat the tramp because he envisions him as a giant chicken. There's no analysis here. This is all appreciation. At one point, Jim realizes his folly and apologizes to the tramp. Okay, but the next thing absolutely kills me. He realizes that he was close to becoming a full on cannibal and then just becomes okay with it. Let me tell you. I love that. That moment where Jim goes on an unbridled cannibal rampage is such a hilarious moment. It may not be the funniest moment in The Gold Rush, but it absolutely crushed as a concept for me. Also, that chicken costume is on point.
I have yet to watch a Chaplin movie I didn't like. I really need to watch the rest of them, but as of right now I'm a very happy dude. Perhaps Shoulder Arms next?
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.