Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charlie Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH

In this tale of the "Lone Prospector" (aka the Little Tramp) coming in to the world of mid 19th century gold miners and trying to stake his claim, win the heart of the sweet (though not always nice) girl Georgia, and just survive in general, Chaplin gets loads of memorable moments out of his perfect comedy (and sometimes just dramatic, bittersweet) timing. I'm not sure if it really marks it as a "deep" film the way that City Lights, Modern Times or Great Dictator are. And you know what? Who cares? It's one of his most sheerly entertaining films, meant to manipulate the audience like puppets. I say, it's so much fun being at the fingers of a master-manipulator-artist like Chaplin.

And where's Fitzcarraldo when you really need him!?
 In this film we at first see how the Trampspector has to deal with Big Jim McKay and Black Larsen, big bears of men (though not bears themselves, one of those comes in from time to time), and the fact that there's very little food to be had - at one point he's viewed as a chicken, more than figuratively! Then he goes into town, meets Georgia (and her jerk of a man), and has a lovely dance one night that leads to possibly New Years Eve plans - also leading into one of the most adorable of all scenes where he does a smashing musical number with two dinner rolls. The heartbreak of this section (and to me it felt that way, a lot) leads into the final section of the film wherein the Tramp and Big Jim may finally get some of that gold and become millionaires... if they can survive an honest-to-goodness cliffhanger in their cabin!

Fun/scary trivia: Chaplin ate so much shoe (licorice) over three days and 63 takes he was rushed to the hospital with insulin shock

Chaplin as a performer is fearless with whatever stunts need to be doen (albeit he's no Buster Keaton, we'll get that straight now), but his comic timing was just impeccable. I loved seeing how he would move in a room, or how he would react to others in an awkward moment. He's THE lovable outsider, and as such he can also be a character who we might see ourselves in. There's a moment when he first comes into the salloon and is mistaken for thinking Georgia (Georgia Hale) sees him but rather it's the brutish Jack. But that's not the part that really works in that whole set-piece; it's following this, when he's at the bar and he tries ever so desperately (though not too over the top) to be noticed by her. Among this crowd he's a) not too special enough, and b) is just a little too odd to make it with them... except as a dance partner to get someone else's goad.

Colonel Sanders approved

But aside from the romance stuff, which feels honest and true and helps give the film an emotional backbone, watch the film today and see how the comic set-pieces hold up. And not just Chaplin, but also how good Mack Swain as Big Jim gets into the swing of things. As he chases Chaplin around the room as a chicken it's a riot - when they're hanging on for dear life in the cabin on the precipice it goes from at first delirious slapstick to genuine suspense and then back again. But even the smaller bits, like when the Tramp shovels the snow from one place and builds it up to the next business place, is inspired.

"You were just a face in the crowd..."

See The Gold Rush for the big sequences, for how good Chaplin handles crowds and sets and (fake-studio-done) weather, and for how wonderful he takes his character to again, and also for the little touches he puts in there, how impressionable the townspeople are, and how awesome the ending is on that ocean-liner.

And as an aside: when I saw the film in the theater, a couple of kids were brought by their parents, and young ones at that. Specifically one five year old Asian kid and his parents sat in front of me (the kid was as well behaved as one could hope for in a five year old), and the kid loved the hell out of the movie - laughed hysterically at the slapstick, was awed by the big set-pieces, perhaps perplexed/bored by the romance bits, and sometimes bounced up and down when something excited him. It's a very fun movie on its own - seeing that, however, gave me a little hope for the future of humanity.

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