x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A picture to be remembered by

Film school A bluffer's guide to The Gold Rush.

<i>The Gold Rush</i> is the quintessential Charlie Chaplin film.
The Gold Rush is the quintessential Charlie Chaplin film.

A bluffer's guide to The Gold Rush.

It's a Charlie Chaplin film, so naturally it's a rags-to-riches tale revolving around his most famous creation: Tramp. The Gold Rush was released in 1925 when the director was at the height of his fame, and it's the quintessential Chaplin movie. During the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, Tramp is a prospector searching for his fortune in Alaska. A blizzard forces him to seek refuge in a hut with a criminal called Black Larsen and an intimidating prospector known as Big Jim. They almost die of hunger waiting for a break in the weather. After Tramp leaves, Big Jim loses his memory and dastardly Black Larsen dies. A few months later, a town has blossomed in Alaska. Tramp, as he always does, sees a girl and falls instantly in love. Then it's the usual Chaplin romance: girl rejects Tramp but his heart of gold eventually wins her over. He also strikes it rich as he helps the amnesiac Big Jim strike gold.

Where to start? The scene in which the starving Tramp cooks and eats his shoe is a celluloid classic. Tramp and Big Jim slide across the floor of a teetering cabin in a literal cliffhanger that was borrowed by the makers of The Italian Job for their finale. But the most famous is undoubtedly the much imitated Dance of the Rolls. The audience at the 1927 Berlin premiere were so taken with it that they demanded the projectionist stop the film and replay the scene.

Lita Grey, who appeared in Chaplin's 1921 film The Kid, was originally cast to play Georgia, Tramp's love interest, but dropped out of the movie six months into the film when she married Chaplin. They had two sons together.

Chaplin's left-leaning views got him banned from the United States during the McCarthy era, so it's no surprise that he thought the Klondike Gold Rush was the perfect historical setting for some social satire about wealth and poverty. He was so taken with a photograph of prospectors crossing the Chilkoot Pass that he recreated the scene using 600 extras for the film's opening scene. A book on the Donner Party disaster of 1846, which detailed how starving immigrants ate their moccasins, was another source.

Ah, yes. In 1942, Chaplin foolishly decided to add sound to the film, replacing the intertitles and adding a voice-over narration. While he was at it he trimmed some scenes, most pertinently replacing the passionate final scene between Tramp and Georgia with one that sees them chastely holding hands. The silent original was lost, but thankfully restored in 1993.

It was the fifth highest grossing silent film in box office history and Chaplin's most successful film. There were no Oscars in 1926 but the 1942 reworking was nominated in the sound and music categories.

Chaplin said, "This is the picture I want to be remembered by." His placing of comedy in a historical situation was prescient. The film's influence can be seen in works from Federico Fellini's La Strada to Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely.