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THE GOLD RUSH
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain
Director:  Charles Chaplin
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1 (silent), PCM Mono (1942)
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  69 Minutes (Silent: 96 Minutes)
Release Date:  June 12, 2012

“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 Blu-ray.

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 ****

Many of Chaplin's films have held up quite well, and it's always a treat for fans when Criterion gets their hands on one of them.  The black and white photography is quite pristine, and although the 1942 version looks a bit better since the silent version was compiled from various composite sources, you can't go wrong with the digital cleanliness either way.

Audio ***

The silent version actually gets the DTS HD soundtrack here as composer Timothy Brock fully orchestrates a restored version of Chaplin's score.  The 1942 version, with Chaplin's original music and narration, gets a mono mix, but both sound clean and are warm and enjoyable listens.

Features ***1/2

This loaded Blu-ray 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 are also new features including a comparison of both film versions with historian Kevin Brownlow and biographer Jeffrey Vance, who also offers an insightful and enjoyable commentary to the silent version.  Brock talks about Chaplin the composer in another interview, and the special effects are examined.  There are also four trailers (including international ones), plus another terrific Criterion booklet.

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 beautiful Blu-ray offering from Criterion with both issues of the film is the best home video presentation this movie has ever enjoyed.

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