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MOVIE MANIA – The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush (1925) is considered by many as one of Chaplin’s most perfectly accomplished films. It was re-released in 1942 and received Academy Award nominations for Best Music and Best Sound Recording. It is, in fact, one of Chaplin’s most celebrated works, and he himself admitted several times that it was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered.

Lita Grey and Chaplin on location in Truckee, California
Lita Grey and Chaplin on location in Truckee, California
Chaplin on location
Chaplin on location

The Gold Rush

Between 1896 and 1899, there was a mad rush of about 1000.000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada, in search of gold, known as the Klondike Gold Rush. During that time, the Lone Prospector marches across the Chilkoot Pass into the great unknown in the mad rush for hidden gold in the Alaskan wilderness. Caught in a terrific blizzard, he gets lost, the icy clutches of the storm almost claim him when he stumbles into the cabin of Black Larsen, a renegade. Larsen, cruelly tries to force him out again, back into the arms of death, when a sturdy man, Big Jim McKay also stumbles inside. Larsen tries to scare both out using his shotgun, but is subdued by Big Jim, and the three agree to an uneasy truce where they all can stay in the cabin. When the shortage of food becomes a crisis, the three draw lots to select a person who will have to go out into the blizzard to get some food. Larsen loses, unwillingly goes out to find food and accidentally finds Jim’s gold deposit instead. He immediately decides to ambush Jim and grab the fortune.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

Gradually, the two men in the cabin became so hungry that desperately they cook and eat one of the Prospector’s shoes. Later, Jim gets derange, imagines the Prospector as a giant chicken and attacks him to kill for food. At that moment, a bear enters the cabin and is killed, supplying them with food.

After the storm subsides, both of them leave the cabin, the Prospector arrives in the next mushroom city of the gold rush, while Jim returns to his gold deposit. In the wilderness, Jim finds Larsen, in possession of his property. In the battle that ensues between the two, Jim falls under a blow from a shovel wielded by Larsen, who flees from the scene to be swept to his death in an avalanche. Jim recovers from unconsciousness, but he has lost his memory from the blow and wanders into the snow. As he returns to the town, his memory vaguely comes back, he suddenly remembers about his discovery of a large gold deposit. He remembers that the deposit was close to a certain cabin, which he had shared with the Prospector. But he does not have any clue about the location of the deposit or the cabin. So, he starts to look for the Prospector, with the hope that he knows the location of the cabin.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

While in the town, the Prospector encounters Georgia, a dance hall girl. With the intention to irritate Jack, who is trying to make undue aggressive advances toward her, Georgia decides to dance with the Prospector, the most deplorable looking tramp in the dance hall and the Prospector instantly falls in love with her. After the incident, they meet each other again and she accepts his invitation for a New Year’s Eve dinner. However, she does not take the invitation seriously and soon forgets about it.

The Prospector arranged for the dinner and was waiting for her to arrive. After a long wait, he imagines, entertaining her with a comical dance of bread rolls on the forks. When she does not arrive until midnight, he walks alone through the streets, completely distraught. At that moment, Georgia remembers his invitation and decides to visit him. Finding his home empty, but seeing the meticulously prepared dinner and a present for her, she has a change of heart and prepares a note for him in which she asks to talk to him. On receiving the note, the Prospector tries to find Georgia. But at the same moment, Jim finds him and forces him to accompany in his search for the cabin. Before leaving, the Prospector only shouts to Georgia that he will soon come back to her as a millionaire.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

Ultimately, Jim and the Prospector find the cabin and decide to spend the night there.   That night, another blizzard blows the cabin half over a cliff right, which is next to Jim’s gold deposit. The next morning the cabin rocks dangerously over the cliff edge while the two try their best to escape. After much effort, Jim manages to get out of the cabin and also pulls out the Prospector to safety, when the cabin falls down the abyss.

One year later, both have become wealthy. But the Prospector could not find Georgia. They return to the United States on a ship on which, unknown to them, Georgia is also traveling. When the Prospector agrees to don his old clothes for a photograph, he falls down the stairs, encountering Georgia once more. Soon the cloud of misunderstanding is cleared up and both are happily reunited. The reporters sense a romance and they happily pose for pictures.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush is the first of Chaplin’s silent films which he revived with the addition of sound for new audiences. It was re-released in 1942 with a new musical score. Much of the new music was written by Charles Chaplin himself, in collaboration with musical director Max Terr. Chaplin also replaced the inter-titles with a commentary, which he spoke himself. Some scenes were trimmed by him from the film, which includes the lingering final embrace with Georgia, with whom he had maintained a long romantic friendship.  It is quite likely that, due to some personal reasons, he had to replace the passionate kiss with a more formal shot of the couple walking off, simply holding hands.

 It is interesting to note that, while searching for a new leading lady, Charlie Chaplin rediscovered Lillita MacMurray, whom he had employed, as a pretty 12-year-old, in ‘The Kid’. Still, under sixteen, Lillita was put under contract and re-named Lita Grey. She was also filmed in several scenes in ‘The Gold Rush’ and even traveled with the cast to Truckee, California, for location shooting. During the trip, Charlie’s interest in Lita was ignited. They had an affair and she was impregnated by the then-thirty-five-year-old Chaplin and Chaplin found himself forced into a marriage which brought misery to both the partners. In view of the relative circumstances, production for The Gold Rush was stopped for three months. Ultimately, Lita was replaced in the film by an enchanting new leading lady, Georgia Hale.It was an open secret that, at the time of filming, Charles Chaplin was having an intimate affair with Georgia Hale, so that when their finale’s lingering kiss was filmed, it was “not acting”. However, when the film was re-released in 1942, that scene of a long kiss was trimmed off by the director, since the old romance was over long before that.

With unforeseen interruptions and the distractions of his domestic tribulations, the production of the film dragged on for almost a year and a half. In every respect, the project was the most elaborate undertaking of Chaplin¹s career. The location shooting at Truckee in the snow country of the Sierra Nevada continued for two weeks at a stretch. Despite adversities of the situation, Chaplin faithfully recreated the historic image of the perilous journey of the Prospectors struggling up the Chilkoot Pass. After all, it was not that easy to arrange for six hundred extras, which included many vagrants and derelicts of Sacramento, and were engaged to clamber up the 2300-feet pass dug through the mountain snow.

The Gold Rush is full with classic comedy scenes, which include among others, Charlie cooks and eats his boot, with all the airs of a gourmet. The derange Jim hallucinates the Prospector as a giant chicken, which is a triumph for both the cameramen who had to create the elaborate trick work entirely in the camera and for Chaplin who magically becomes a bird. Once, for some reason, a different person performed in the chicken costume in place of Chaplin, but finally that shot was rejected – after all, nobody has the gift of talent like Charles Chaplin.

Final Kiss

Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee

Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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