Your own jury can be out on that one but one thing is for sure, along with his other great classics like “The Kid” or “City Lights”, “Gold Rush” would rank as one of the all time classics – a feast that can be enjoyed not matter what your age or what your mood for that matter.
Its a measure of Chaplin’s genius that he could sustain his audience through a full length silent feature movie, a length which many modern movies struggle to fill with any meaning, with all the tech wizardy in hand.
Much like “The Kid”, which came earlier, Chaplin is able to combine comedy, pathos, a keen sense of human nature and a social non-judgmental commentary and a sense of irreverent frivolity.
Many people today mistaken Chaplin with slapstick or physical comedy, which is a tragedy of ignorance. Almost none of his works are of the kind that would make you laugh without making you think, however subtly. And that is where the power of something like “Gold Rush” comes into focus.
The Tramp is now in the middle of the infamous Gold rush in Alaska of the late 19th century. And as ever, he is bumbling along alone, with his trademark top hat, ill fitting coat and stick, all in the wilderness of Alaska. He is the lone prospector trying his luck in the advertised El Dorado, with only a map drawn with just north south arrows.
On the way to struggle to fame, he meets quite a few characters along the way – the thug, the prospector who finds the mountain of Gold and then loses it, the ladies man Jack, and the woman who he falls in love with – Georgia, a dancing girl in one of the prospecting towns.
With his inimitable charm and bumbling confidence, the Tramp does what he does best – makes you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.
Between fighting a bear, almost getting eaten after being mistaken as a chicken and escaping from a see-sawing house on an cliff edge, the Tramp is the dreamer who falls madly in love with Georgia, who only finds him a useful foolishness.
Some of the most indelible imagery of “Gold Rush” is of the Tramp being a misfit even among misfits. The image of him facing the dance hall, back towards us, with people dancing gaily around him, while he just watches with us seeing his face is one of the most enduring image.
And of course who can forget the simply hilarious dance of the rolls – one of the most famous scenes of all times. A scene that combines a comic timing, comic expressions, a virtuoso skill at the pantomime of dance using rolls, all happening at the backdrop of it taking place in a dream where the tramp is imagining a happy place with a reality quite different. If one scene can define the whole movie, it would have to be this one
What finally happens is something that you have to find for yourself as telling the ending is spoiling the fun. But unlike many of his earlier movies, I found the ending to be a bit equivocal.
The beauty of “Gold Rush” and probably why Chaplin wanted to be remembered for this is that this movie works so well on different levels. It depends on what how the viewer wants to take it. On the surface is a classic Tramp caper with his inimitable style.
Dig a bit deeper and you catch glimpses of social satire – on human greed, on human frailty, on vanity, on capriciousness, of pride and of love based on material and physical aspects. And the ending with the kiss, with the Tramp acting the imperious millionaire, is an ending you can take in more ways than one.
Easy to see why the Tramp is such a loved character, even after almost a 100 years after he came on the screen and also easy to see why “Gold Rush” would remain one of the most well-loved of Chaplin’s movie.
The roll dance