Friday, December 19, 2008

28. The Gold Rush - 1925

Synopsis: Charlie Chaplin's Tramp is a prospector. He gets stuck in a cabin with another prospector named Big Jim (who has found gold) and they almost starve. They eventually leave the cabin for town after killing a bear.

Chaplin falls in love with Georgia while in town. Georgia never shows for their New Year's Eve party where Chaplin imagines dancing with some rolls. Big Jim shows up demanding that Chaplin take him to the cabin because Big Jim only remembers that his claim is near a cabin. They become millionaires.

At some point, Black Larsen finds Big Jim's claim but falls off a mountain.

Review: There are two versions of this film. The 1925 version is silent. The 1942 version has, among some other changes, a narrative track. Netflix, much to my disappointment, sent the 1942 version.

I unfortunately didn't know that there were two versions of this movie before sending the DVD back to Netflix. The opening credits stated being a "revival." I assumed the original was lost and that it had been reconstructed as closely as possible to the original for rerelease or something similar.

I kept thinking how unusual it was that a movie from 1925 had narration. I kept thinking how bad the narration was. I kept thinking I should turn off my speakers but it had to be here for a reason. Had I know before watching The Gold Rush that the narration was foolishly added 17 years later, I would have turned off the sound instead of suffering needlessly.

I guess I understand Chaplin's reasoning for updating his movie for the revival. I completely disagree with it though. The biggest problem I have with the narration is that it clearly doesn't need to exist. It didn't offer any insight into the characters or action. Chaplin was, for the most part, telling me exactly what I could see on screen or, even worse, reciting exactly what the characters were saying. It was a distraction that covered up a quality movie.
If you'd like an idea on how this doesn't work, take a look at the closest things we have to a silent film these days: Cast Away and WALL-E. Imagine a narrator saying, "Now Tom Hanks tooth hurts. He's going to remove it with an ice skate," or "WALL-E sees a fire extinguisher. He wants to determine its function."
It's a nuisance that really should be forgotten. As such, no more talk of it for now.
The Gold Rush is apparently Chaplin's favorite film of his own. I wouldn't put it quite that high but it is a solid movie. The gags work and that's really all I need from a silent comedy.

If you want to gauge how well this works, watch some Warner Brothers cartoons. Must of The Gold Rush looks like it came straight from a Warner Brothers cartoon. Strike that. Reverse it. The Gold Rush predates them and it was shocking to learn that. A lot of classic Looney Toons ideas come straight from here. How many times have you seen two starving characters each envisioning the other as a giant chicken before coming after them with murderous hunger? How many times was it done better than this:
That is priceless material right here. Had I seen that as a kid I never would have stopped laughing. It isn't all hallucinating about chickens. Every time a Warner Brother's cartoon has characters in a shack leaning precariously on a cliff, it comes back to this movie. A wimpy character thinking he knocked out a big guy when something fell on his head comes back to this movie.

Therein lies a big problem here. Chaplin was so influential--as was Buster Keaton--that I've seen the best moments here done numerous times. It's lost a lot of its value.

An interesting thing that Chaplin does here that hasn't been seen before is combining comedy and a love story. Buster Keaton films feature him going after the girl regularly but Chaplin actually goes after our emotions instead of playing it all for a laugh. You actually feel for Chaplin when Georgia doesn't show up on New Year's Eve. That might be Chaplin's best innovation for film.

Also, dancing rolls.

Score 6/10 (8/10 without the narration)

1 comment:

Anne said...

I think it's really interesting to see where the cartoon sight gags (or most anything else for that matter) originated. It adds a whole new layer of meaning, and maybe even a bit of history.

The horrible part of this movie was the narration. I wonder how much better it would have been with a nice ragtimey soundtrack.

Nice blog.