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THE GOLD RUSH

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain
Director:  Charles Chaplin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono (Silent Version: Dolby Stereo)
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  69 Minutes (Silent: 96 Minutes)
Release Date:  July 1, 2003

“You can be MOST ANNOYING at times…”

Film ****

Though Charlie Chaplin could and did say at any given time that a different picture of his was his personal favorite, the one he most often came back to was The Gold Rush.  So beloved was it to him, as a matter of fact, that he reissued the original 1925 silent version in 1942 with his newly composed music score and his own narration replacing the title cards.  Both versions are represented on this DVD.

Why was this picture so near and dear to the Tramp’s heart?  Maybe because it was the easiest idea to ever come together for him.  In fact, historians note that The Gold Rush was the first picture Chaplin ever began filming with a pretty much complete script ready to go. 

It’s said he first got the idea from looking at a photograph of the Klondike gold rush while visiting friends and business partners Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.  He recreated that image of prospectors winding up and through a distant mountain range like a big snake, then brought in his Tramp, and the rest was comic history.

The Tramp is a lone prospector fighting hunger and the elements to chase the dream of gold.  In the frozen wilderness, he comes across characters like the villainous Black Larson and the good but oafish Big Jim (Swain).  In town, he meets up with the lovely dance hall girl Georgia (Hale).  With her, he hopes to strike a romance, while with Big Jim, he hopes to strike it rich.  In both cases, he hopes to stay alive!

The plot isn’t much to speak of…the real treat is the parade of classic gags that have long since found place in our world consciousness.  The boiled shoe Thanksgiving dinner, for one, or the starving Big Jim hallucinating that the Tramp is a big chicken (funny stuff).  There’s Chaplin’s charming dance with the dinner rolls…a sequence so popular that movie audiences often demanded that projectionists back up the film and run it again!  And finally, there’s the teetering cabin, which proved not only how well Chaplin could build and sustain laughs, but suspense as well!

The gags are indelibly well conceived and executed, not only by Chaplin, but by his supporting players as well.  Many modern audiences still consider The Gold Rush their favorite of the Chaplin films, and it’s hard to argue the point.  This is a delightful, comic masterpiece from start to finish.

The original silent print runs a little longer than the 1942 re-release, mostly because of the presence of intertitles, but also because Chaplin trimmed a bit from the beginning and the end for his later presentation.  Purists can decide for themselves which version they prefer; for me, despite being a silent buff, I have to say that Chaplin’s music and narration adds an extra element of charm and personality, so it’s the ’42 version for me.

But whichever one you choose, The Gold Rush is one of those landmark early films that holds up well despite age and the advent of sound.  Chaplin didn’t get to be the world’s most popular celebrity by making pictures that wouldn’t stand the test of time.  Check it out for yourself, and see if you don’t find yourself laughing loud and often.

Video ***

Being the oldest of the films in the first Chaplin Collection, The Gold Rush shows a bit more of its age than the others.  But it’s still quite a triumphant new transfer from Warner Bros., besting even the former CBS FOX release and absolutely burying the countless inexpensive versions that have been available on home video for years.  Despite a mark here, scratch there, and occasional jump-cut, this DVD looks amazing for a feature closing in on 80 years of age.  Fans should be thrilled; this one’s a treat.

Audio ***

The 5.1 remixes for this series are impressive mostly because of the extra oomph they give to Chaplin’s music.  Here, that’s the main attraction.  Though Chaplin’s narration is in fine form, there is less in the way of synchronized sound effects than in later pictures, so the surrounding channels mostly open up the musical score, while the .1 kicks in occasionally for the deep notes.  Less to work with overall doesn’t really mean a significant drop in quality…and for purists, there’s the original mono soundtrack as well, plus a new stereo piano score for the silent version.

Features ***1/2

The double disc set boasts plenty of goodies, starting with an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson and a half hour featurette that looks at the film today, with African director Idrissa Ouedraogo sharing his thoughts…even better is seeing a group of African school children watching The Gold Rush for the first time…their laughter and smiles are priceless!

There is also a gallery of some 250 stills, a poster gallery, trailers (including international ones), and scenes from other entries in The Chaplin Collection.  Of course, the big extra is the inclusion of the longer silent version of The Gold Rush from 1925, so you can compare and contrast to your heart’s content!

Summary:

The Gold Rush strikes the comedy mother lode, as this classic silent (or narrated) comedy showcases the wit and timing of the great Charlie Chaplin for new and future audiences to appreciate.  This double disc offering from Warner with both issues of the film is the best home video presentation this movie has ever enjoyed.