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DVD SAVANT

The Gold Rush


The Gold Rush
Mk2 / Warner
1925 / b&w / 1:37 flat full frame / 96 & 69 min. / Street Date July 1, 2003 / 29.95
Starring Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, Malcolm Waite, Georgia Hale
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Production Designer Charles D. Hall
Written, Produced, Directed by Charles Chaplin

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.

Synopsis:

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 experiences 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 of special 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 points, etc.

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Excellent
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

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