Considered by many critics as the greatest and most elaborate dramatic comedy ever filmed, The Gold Rush (1925), created by Charles Chaplin, is one of his most celebrated works, for which he most wanted to be remembered. It is also the first of his silent films which he revived with the addition of sound for new audiences, re-released in 1942 with a new musical score and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Music and Best Sound Recording.
It was filmed in the background of the Klondike Gold Rush, when there was a mad rush of about 1000.000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwest Canada, in search of gold, between 1896 and 1899.
In the film, Charlie as a tramp prospector, garbed in his old familiar derby, cane, baggy pants and shoes, was marching across the Chilkoot Pass in the mad rush for hidden gold in the Alaskan wilderness, when he was caught in a blizzard, lost his way and almost stumbles into the cabin of Black Larsen, a renegade. But Larsen did not like the idea of giving him shelter in his cabin and ordered him rudely to clear out.
When he was trying to throw the Prospector out of his cabin, back into the arms of death, a sturdy man, Big Jim McKay, another gold prospector, who found an enormous gold deposit on his parcel of land, also stumbles inside, as the storm had uprooted his tent. While Larsen tried to scare both out using his shotgun, he was overpowered by Jim and finally, the three agree to an uneasy truce allowing them all to stay in the cabin till the storm subsides. But as the blizzard continued for days together, the shortage of food became a crisis and the trio opted to cut the cards to select a person who would have to move out to find some food. Larsen loses the draw, unwillingly goes out to find food and accidentally encounters two officers of the law, who are looking for him. Larsen shoots both law officers without any hesitation, picks up their provisions and equipment and while continuing his return journey, he accidentally discovers Big Jim’s gold deposit and immediately decides to ambush him to get hold of the treasure.
By that time, the two men in the cabin became so hungry that the tramp chooses one of his shoes as the object of their Thanksgiving dinner. He cooks it on the stove until perfectly simmered, pours water over it like gravy and after splitting it like a filet, offers the upper part to Big Jim, while starts to chew on the lower sole part, treating it like a delicacy.
But as starvation strikes again and the pangs of hunger come back in the cabin, Jim gets derange and crazily imagines the tramp prospector transformed into a giant, plump chicken, ripe for slaughter. Immediately, he starts to chase the tramp with a gun and later with an axe, when the shoeless tramp was sitting with his foot in the oven to keep him warm. While the panic-stricken Tramp desperately tries to defend himself with the shotgun in a hand-to-hand struggle with Jim, a passing bear wanders into the cabin and gets involved in the struggle. To save the situation, the tramp aims and kills it, solving their food problem.After the storm subsides, both leave the cabin, Jim returns to his gold deposit, while the tramp arrives in a little gold-mining boomtown and secures food and lodging at the cabin of Hank Curtis, who leaves him to take care of the place during his prospecting trip.
On the side of the story, Jim finds Larsen in possession of his property and in the ensuing battle, he falls under a blow from a shovel wielded by Larsen and loses consciousness. Larsen immediately flees from the scene, but loses his foothold and crashes to the bottom of the canyon hundreds of feet below to meet his fate.However, Jim recovers from unconsciousness and having lost his memory from the blow, starts wandering into the snow aimlessly. Suddenly he vaguely remembers his discovery of a large gold deposit, which was close to a certain cabin. But as he had lost all the memories about the location of the cabin, he starts to look for the tramp prospector with the hope that he knows the location of the cabin.
By that time, the tramp visits the local dance hall and meets Georgia, a pretty girl, with whom he instantly falls in love. To his surprise, she selects him to dance with her in preference to Jack Cameron, who was jokingly heckling him to attract her attention. He then invites her to dinner, which she readily accepts, but soon forgets about it. However, the tramp waits for her for a long time with the arranged dinner, imagining to entertain her with a comical dance with bread rolls on the forks. But when she does not arrive until midnight, he walks alone through the streets, completely distraught. After a long time, Georgia remembers his invitation and turns up to the empty house with a prepared dinner, feels bad and writes him a note asking to talk. The tramp becomes elated by the contents of the note, desperately tries to find Georgia, but Jim finds him instead and forces him to accompany him in his search for the cabin. Just a moment before being dragged by Jim from the place, the lovelorn tramp discovers Georgia on a balcony and shouts to her in a top voice, promising to soon come back to her as a millionaire.
After a long and tedious journey, Jim and the tramp find the cabin and decide to spend the night there and to set out for the mine in the morning. During the night a heavy blizzard dislodges the cabin and carries half of it to the brink of a high cliff. As the cabin starts to rock dangerously over the cliff edge in the morning, the two scramble up the floor's steep incline to safety and try their best to escape. Just before the cabin falls down the abyss, Big Jim climbs out of the hanging cabin and pulls the tramp out of it. Immediately after that, Big Jim McKay discovers his lost treasure within a few yards of the precipice, where his pickaxe is stuck in the rocky ground.
As a result of the discovery of the gold-mine windfall, they become multi-millionaires, but fail to find Georgia. After a year, the elegant and well-dressed new multi-millionaires on board a ship returning home from Alaska, on which Georgia is also travelling, unknown to them. Noticing the tramp in the height of fashion evening dress and all the adornments, the photographers request the tramp to don his old clothes for a snap, to which he agrees. But during the photographic session, the tramp accidentally falls down the stairs, encountering Georgia once more and both are happily reunited.
Considered by many as one of Chaplin’s most perfectly accomplished films, Chaplin dispersed his comic actions in the film through a logically developed plot and carries the entire film with his exceptional performance.The project was the most elaborate and complicated campaign of Chaplin¹s career, as the location shooting at Truckee in the snow country of the Sierra Nevada continued for two weeks at a stretch. Despite the extremely difficult task of arranging six hundred extras, which included many vagrants and derelicts of Sacramento and engage them to clamber up the 2300-feet pass dug through the mountain snow, Chaplin meticulously recreated the historic image of the perilous journey of the tramp prospector’s struggling up the Chilkoot Pass.
The Gold Rush is full of classic comedy scenes, which include among others, Charlie cooks and eats his boot, treating it like a delicacy, twirls the laces like spaghetti and sucks the nails, as if they were the bones of a game bird. Another scene that deserves a special mention is the hallucination of the deranged Jim, imagining the tramp as a giant chicken, which is a triumph for both the cameramen and Chaplin, who incredibly becomes a bird. However, the pathetic sequence depicting the disappointment of Charlie in the cabin in the midst of his spread for his ladylove is perhaps one of the finest pieces of dramatic interpretation ever put on the screen.
The production of the film dragged on for almost a year and a half, due to the personal distractions and domestic tribulations of Charles Chaplin. He rediscovered Lillita MacMurrayfor the role of the leading lady, who starred in The Kid as a pretty 12-year-old flirtatious angel, put her under contract and re-named Lita Grey. She travelled with the cast for the location shooting and was filmed in several scenes, only to be replaced by an enchanting new leading lady, Georgia Hale, as she was impregnated by the then-thirty-five-year-old Chaplin. Although ultimately Chaplin found himself forced into a marriage with Lita Grey, it brought misery to both the partners. Nevertheless, that did not stop Charlie to start an intimate affair with the new leading lady Georgia Hale and when their finale's lingering kiss was filmed, it was not really acting. But when the film was re-released in 1942, that scene of the long kiss was trimmed off by the director, since by that time the old romance was over long before.