Charlie Chaplin’s famous “tramp” travels north, to the Yukon Klondike region of Canada, to try his hand at prospecting gold. As you would expect, his luck is not with him and he instead finds loneliness, unrequited love, and cooked boot as his only food source.
Charlie Chaplin’s “tramp” captured the audience of the time and has stood the test of time due to how he is able to relate to the human experience. Chaplin’s ability to blend tragedy and comedy together makes his films more well rounded and engaging for a wider audience. His comedy is not just slap stick silliness, or hammering in a shtick, and his tragedy is not stiff and dry, or grandiose. There may be scenes at are over the top and grandiose, but when it comes to the tragedy aspects of Gold Rush it is the simple gestures that hit the hardest. The tramp’s unrelenting spirit that he embodies while trapped in a world of loneliness and disdain is what makes his character stand out.
A good example of the way Chaplin seamlessly blends various emotional tones can be seen in the New Years Eve sequence. The tramp works hard to get enough money to entertain his love interest, Georgia (Hale), and her friends. After preparing the food, setting the table, and laying out gifts, he sits and awaits their arrival. The dinner is an entertaining success and includes Chaplin’s famous “bread dance” scene.
As a side note, Chaplin’s famous “bread dance” sequence is a homage to his mentor, Roscoe “fatty” Arbuckle. Arbuckle’s rendition can be seen in The Rough House (1917). Roscoe was instrumental in Chaplin’s start in film and creation of the “tramp”.
Going back to Gold Rush, we see the joy and happiness that the night has brought the tramp. However, Chaplin wakes up and we realize that it was all a dream and everyone in town is celebrating without him.
When we get to see the celebration, you can see that many people within the tavern are more solemn and melancholy. New Years can be a bitter sweet time of hear for people and this reverberates through not only the plot, but through the emotion carried out by the auxiliary cast. Through this sequence we see the tramp go from giddy joy, to feeling the warmth and happiness of entertaining his love interest, to despair and loneliness all in the span of a few minutes.
Another classic scene involves the tramp succumbing to eating a cooked boot. While trapped in a cabin deep in the desolate tundra, the tramp and Big Jim McKay (Swain) are forced to get creative to stay alive. It is not the fact that they eat the boot that makes it so funny and off the wall, it is the way that Chaplin sells the experience.
It starts by Chaplin cleaning a plate off, before he puts a boiled boot on it. This classy attention to cleanliness before embarking on the filthy experience of eating a tramps boot is perfect. Followed by the careful dressing and plating of the boot as if we are watching a fine dining experience. Once they get to eating, Chaplin begins with a slight, and expected, reluctance to eat the boot and then quickly dives right in like he is eating a gourmet meal. By the end he is licking each iron tack clean.
The film starts out leaning more tragic and ends up on the positive spectrum with the tramp ultimately being successful and rewarded for his seemingly endless resilience. One aspect of the ending that surprised me was the way that he “gets” the girl at the end. Once he becomes rich, and right before the credits, he basically just announces that they will marry after only reuniting for a few minutes. Throughout the film we don’t get the feeling that she actually likes him, it actually comes across more like pity.
This just seems to send an odd message at the end of the movie. This is not a reunion of lovers, but a fool in love. Even the way that they kiss at the end seems one sided. Perhaps this was the point and was designed to further highlight his naive tendencies and his unwavering positive attitude.
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Roland Totheroh
Edited by: Charles Chaplin
Written By: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, and Malcolm Waite.
Runtime: 1h 27m
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Silent
Distributed by: United Artists
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