Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Perhaps the most famous silent comedy, The Gold Rush is prime Charlie Chaplin material
and maybe the best outing for his Little Tramp character. Modern audiences with the patience
to wait for a laugh (an endangered trait) will be as delighted as were 1925 viewers.
The new official MK2/ Warner's release includes both versions, the preferred '25 original (added
as an extra) and Chaplin's 1942 recut. Some well-appointed extras add to the appeal of this
fancy two-disc special edition.
The Lone Prospector (Charles Chaplin) partners with the violent but good-hearted
Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) in the treacherous Klondike, where outlaws like Black Larsen
(Tom Murray) murder for gold claims. In town, the clueless adventurer
falls in love with dance-hall girl Georgia
(Georgia Hale), but his romance seems hopeless when she doesn't take his New Year's invitation
seriously, and he prepares a big party for naught.
There's little purpose in going over one of the most reviewed films of all time; The Gold Rush
is classic Chaplin through and through. His jokes are all directly related to the plotline, which
takes place in the Far North and begins with almost an epic feel. But in addition to the dangers,
we're soon given gags about hunger and double-crossing. The Tramp can handle most of these, but
heartbreak in the center section's saccharine, old-fashioned romance. Chaplin's sentimentality
is direct, unfussy and free of the all-devouring egotism of his late-career films - this collection
of sharp slapstick and universal emotional stings is about as pure as silent filmmaking can get.
Detractors often point out that Chaplin's filming style never altered from the locked-down, one-angle
setups of his first silent pictures. Although this is true to some extent, it's pretty clear that
he only kept it that way because it was the proper 'world' for his Tramp character to inhabit. The
filming is nowhere near as primitive as one might think. It isn't only Chaplin's excellent grasp
effects - the teetering house and 'chicken mirage' gags still work perfectly - his basic visual
sense shows genuine sophistication. When the Tramp enters the saloon as a virtual silhouette with
the merrymaking going on behind him, his isolation is communicated across all cultural and language
barriers. This desire to make his films' appeal universal is probably what drove Chaplin to resist
some technical innovations and stylistic 'advances.'
Fans who have already bought The Gold Rush on laser and the earlier Image DVD will want to know
more about the presentation than the film. MK2 has compiled a very slickly-appointed package ... the
menu and package design have a very 'English Graphics' look.
Disc 1 has the 1942 feature, which appears to have been given a digital cleanup, along with more
image sharpening and contrast adjustment than I'd like. But it is very clean, there's no denying.
This rescored, re-edited and Chaplin-narrated version is, I think, borderline unwatchable. Chaplin's
storybook-like commentary undercuts his own jokes, and his verbal cuteness is distracting. Fans
debate the issue, especially his snipping of the original final scene, but I've never gotten
far enough through this version to worry about it. The sound quality, and Chaplin's score, are
excellent, an optional 5.1 mix of this is provided.
Disc 2 has the 1925 original, which is a Kevin Brownlow and David Gill restoration. It looks okay,
with a better grayscale than the reissue version, but it is also slightly less sharp. Some splices
ride, there's dirt here and there, etc. It's probable that the old version survived only in dupe
elements, whereas Chaplin recut his negative for the reissue. Complete and given a nice original
piano score, this is the way to see the film.
Brownlow and Gill may have had a lot of difficult choices to make while putting their restoration together.
Since duping stocks were poor or unavailable in 1925, it was common practice to run multiple cameras
side by side to get extra negatives for printing, foreign distribution, etc. It's possible that
different prints of a film like The Gold Rush use slightly different angles and changed cut
Due to the inclusion of a second full feature, the other extras are limited to basic material.
The package text helpfully notes their running times. This segment of Chaplin Today is a
somewhat drawn out full doc on the film, that has an interesting but draggy segment on an African
filmmaker's reactions to the classic Chaplin movie. David Robinson's Introduction lays
out the basics for appreciation in much less time; Robinson is a well-known writer on
silent films and an excellent choice.
There's also an exhaustive gallery of 250 photos, a poster art gallery, a selection of multi-lingual
trailers (Chaplin's character is called 'Charlot' in France), and a promotional piece with excerpted
scenes from all the other Chaplin films to eventually be brought out in this series.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Gold Rush rates:
Supplements: 1942 and 1925 versions, Chaplin Today doc, David Robinson Intro, photo
gallery, trailers, poster gallery.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 3, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson