Tuesday, August 11, 2015

AFI Top 100, #74: "The Gold Rush" (1925)

Movie Stats:
Released 1925* (Germany)
American, in English (the film is silent but all of the scene cards are in English)
Director - Charlie Chaplin
Stars - Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale

Plot Summary:
A lone prospector (Chaplin) hunting for gold in Alaska finds his life changed after he meets fellow prospector Big Jim McKay (Swain). Hale co-stars as the prospector’s love interest, Georgia.

Non-graphic violence.

Bad Stuff:
As I watched, I felt like this movie was going on forever, even though I know it’s only 88 minutes long. Finally, I realized that I find it tedious when Chaplin’s kind of comedy is stretched out into a feature film. For example, I like The Three Stooges. I think they’re very funny. If their episodes were longer than half an hour, I probably wouldn’t like them nearly as much.

I didn’t like that the lone prospector ended up with Georgia. She’s actually really quite mean to him. After hitting the big time, I wish he would have found a nicer girl.

Good Stuff:
There’s a lot of very funny stuff. I cracked up at the gun fight between Big Jim and Black Larsen (Tom Murray), the ongoing “windblown” gag, and the teetering cabin at the end, plus many other gags.

Chaplin had such an ear for music, which isn’t something I’ve ever heard anyone talk about before. I loved the score for this (it’s actually the score for the 1942 re-release*).

The special effects have held up surprisingly well. I was particularly impressed with the chicken bit (where a starving Big Jim sees the lone prospector as a giant chicken). It looked very realistic.

The Verdict:
I liked it better than City Lights but not as much as Modern Times (in fact, I’m revising MT’s score up a quarter of a star now that I’ve seen all of the Chaplin films on the list). It’s pretty funny. I also came to admire the subtlety of Chaplin’s work during this film. The tramp of “Modern Times” is very different from the one in “City Lights,” and the prospector in “The Gold Rush” is different too. They’re all similar, but Chaplin put enough into his facial expressions and mannerisms to convey differences, and that’s not easy to do without dialogue. Even though the structure of all three of these films was practically the same (loner/outcast meets a woman who inspires him to make something out of himself), I didn’t feel like I was watching the same story over and over again. That takes talent. It’s not surprising that he’s still considered one of the comedic greats.

I give the film 3.75 stars.

*This film has two versions. The original, from 1925, was unavailable for a long time due to poor film quality. In 1942, Chaplin re-released it, but it was a different edit, with a new score and with narration. Restoration work done in the early 1990s made the 1925 version available again, although it included the score from the ’42 release. The DVD I watched had both versions of the film available. I chose to watch the 1925 restoration.


Patricia said...

I was thinking that I hadn't seen this, but your mention of the chicken bit sparked something and I'm thinking it was maybe on TV during my youth at some point. Or maybe I just saw an excerpt at some point.

balyien said...

It's amazing to see how much Chaplin's been copied. I've seen the chicken bit in a lot of cartoons. In a way, I feel sorry for him because so many people have grown up seeing his jokes being told by actors/comedians who aren't him, and then they probably watch his stuff and think it's not funny because they've seen it before. Side note: I was in downtown SM the other day and walked past this guy sitting on a bench who was dressed up EXACTLY like Chaplin, the whole outfit and hat and mustache and everything. I think it *might* have been someone famous going incognito but I didn't want to stare.