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142. THE GOLD RUSH, 1925

A hilarious and poignant comedy masterpiece

The Tramp lone prospector uses forks and break rolls to do the oceana dance of the rolls in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

What better way to ring in a new year than with loads of belly laughs, a sprinkling of nostalgia, and mounds of hope and love, and one surefire way to do that is to watch “The Gold Rush”. This gem of a movie, which partially takes place on New Year’s Eve, provides a treasure-trove of laughs at life’s tragedies better than any other film I can think of. Starring, written, directed, and produced by one of cinema’s monumental figures, Charles “Charlie” Chaplin, this dramatic comedy continues to strike so many funny bones and emotional chords that it remains widely considered one of the greatest films ever made and continually ranks on countless greatest films lists, such as ranked the 2nd Greatest Film of All-Time in the prestigious international Brussel 12 list, the 17th Greatest American Film and 25th Greatest Comedy of All-Time by BBC Culture, and the 25th Funniest and 58th Greatest Movie of All-Time by the American Film Institute (AFI). It is also one of a relatively few to receive a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad for a film that’s nearly 100 years old and silent.


The Tramp lone prospector looks through a window in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

I often feel a bit tentative when adding silent films to this site, for people tend assume they are uninteresting, dated, or corny, so I fear readers will automatically skip these posts and not watch the films simply because they’re silent. That’s a tragedy, for the height of the Silent Era is often recognized as the greatest in cinema history. There’s a poetic magnificence found only in silent films, and their inventiveness and lyricism in visually conveying emotion and telling stories is extraordinary. As Chaplin said in the book “100 Years of Hollywood”, “Motion pictures need dialogue as much as Beethoven symphonies need lyrics”. Without question, the best silent films are among the greatest movies ever made, and “The Gold Rush” is one of them.


The Tramp lone prospector walks along a snowy cliff in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

The film takes place in the snow-covered mountains of Alaska during the Great Gold Rush. It centers around a “Lone Prospector”, a little man in baggy pants who we find wandering “three days from anywhere”. Over the course of the film, the “Lone Prospector” gets caught in a blizzard, stuck in a cabin with wanted criminal “Black Larsen” and prospector “Big Jim McKay”, falls in love with a dance hall girl named “Georgia” (who barely gives him the time of day), fights over “Georgia” with “Jack” (the tallest, meanest man in town), faces extreme weather, hunger, humiliation, near death, and loneliness. Sounds like a barrel of laughs, huh? Believe it or not, it is.


The tramp lone prospector watches everyone else dance in a dancehall in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

Chaplin presents these dark themes with so much hilarity and pure humanity that instead of feeling grim, we find ourselves touched and laughing at the most dire situations. There are few moments in all of cinema that can top watching the starving and desperate “Lone Prospector” eat his boot with the relish and gusto of a five star Michelin meal of roasted chicken with a side of boot string spaghetti, or the melancholy of seeing him standing alone in the center of a dancehall watching everyone else dance. Chaplin turns harrowing occasions as these into sidesplitting comedy and indelibly eloquent moments. In “The Charlie Chaplin Archives”, Chaplin states “I don’t like comedy… I like tragedy, it is beautiful. The only comedy that is worthwhile is when it has beauty. That is all there is in life – beauty. You find that and you have found everything. Only it is hard to find”. Chaplin’s gift was that he could find beauty in the tragic, and that’s what makes “The Gold Rush” so magnificent.


The Tramp lone prospector boils and eats his boot shoe licking the nails clean in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

A brilliant mime with an inimitable ability to express himself physically, Chaplin’s performance as the “Lone Prospector” alone is enough to spark laughter and tears. Watch his expression of determination, care, and contentment as he cooks, plates, and devours his shoe as a delicacy, licking the nails clean as if they were chicken bones and offering a bent one to "Big Jim" as a wishbone. He is hilarious while being dead serious. There’s also his extraordinary physical dexterity, such as when pretending to be frozen stiff as a board to get a free meal, or flawlessly transforming the movements of the “Lone Prospector” into those of a giant chicken when “Big Jim” hallucinates him as a tasty meal. Chaplin gives an incredibly touching, genuinely unadorned performance from start to finish exposing the depths of humanity in all its joy, fear, and sadness. One viewing of “The Gold Rush” is enough understand why Chaplin became one of the biggest cinematic icons in the world and most famous people of the 20th century. Bravo Chaplin!


The Tramp lone prospector boils his shoe in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

Early portrait photo of silent film icon Hollywood movie star writer, director Charles Charlie Chaplin young
Charles Chaplin

Charles Chaplin knew misfortune and hunger all too well from what many have called a “Dickensian” childhood. Born to two music hall entertainers, his alcoholic father was a popular singer who left the family when Chaplin was a baby and died from alcoholism at the age of 38, and his mother was continually plagued by mental illness. Growing up alongside his older brother in extreme poverty and hunger, he lived on the streets, in pocket-sized rooms, and in a workhouse. Chaplin’s stage debut came when he was five and his mother lost her voice in the middle of a song and put him on stage in her place. Imitating his mother's cracking voice, the audience laughed and applauded. It was Chaplin’s first taste of performing. As his mother was going in and out of asylums, he and his brother performed in music halls, sang, and did pantomime. Around the age of ten, Chaplin toured England as a clog dancer with The Eight Lancashire Lads, and by the age of fourteen, became a well established child actor on the legitimate stage. At sixteen, his brother got him a job with the prestigious Fred Karno comedy company, and while touring with them in the US, Chaplin was discovered by a talent scout from Mack Sennett's famed Keystone Film Company.


The Tramp lone prospector stars in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

portrait photo of Silent movie star Hollywood film actor writer director composer Charles Charlie Chaplin in a suit
Charles Chaplin

Chaplin’s film career shows a clear progression of an artist in the making, beginning with his signing with Keystone in 1914 at the age of 24. At Keystone, Chaplin appeared in thirty-six silent short films in the course of a year (beginning with “Making a Living”), rapidly learning the ins and outs of film and film comedy. He began writing and directing along with acting with his twelfth film, ”Twenty Minutes of Love”, and it’s also at Keystone where Chaplin invented his “Tramp” character, who became the studio’s most popular star. Once a success, Chaplin asked for more money, and when denied, he left Keystone and signed with the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company at the end of 1914. At Essanay, Chaplin wrote and directed all his films and took more time and care in their productions. It was at Essanay he began shaping his personal mix of humor and tears, and refined the "Tramp" character into more of a romantic and gentle “sad clown”, particularly with the 1915 films "The Tramp" and "The Bank”. Chaplin was now an international star.


The Tramp and a dog alone in a cabin in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

When his year-long contract with Essanay ended, Chaplin signed with the Mutual Film Corporation and became one of the highest paid people in the world. Over the course of about a year and an half, he starred in, wrote, produced, and directed twelve short films at Mutual, many of his most famous, including "Easy Street", "The Immigrant", "The Rink", "The Cure", "The Pawnshop", and "The Adventurer”. Now a worldwide phenomenon, Chaplin’s name and “Tramp” character were internationally recognizable and he was being appreciated as a comic genius. Needing even more time and money to make the high quality films he wanted, Chaplin signed with First National Pictures in 1917 to make eight films for $1M. They gave him complete freedom and control over his films, and the money enabled him to build his own studio, Charlie Chaplin Studios. Between 1918 and 1923, Chaplin made nine films for First National, including "A Dog's Life", "Shoulder Arms", "The Pilgrim", "The Idle Class", and his 1921 groundbreaking smash hit "The Kid”, the first feature length film he directed.


Charlie Chaplin as the "Tramp"

At this point, Chaplin had appeared as the “Tramp” in nearly sixty short films as well as “The Kid”. Other than being called “the little fellow”, the “Tramp” was almost always nameless. In “The Gold Rush” he is called “The Lone Prospector” (though he is referred to as “the little fellow” and at one point “Georgia” calls him “the tramp”). Often a poor, outcast vagrant trying his best to fit into society and do good while facing bad luck, the “Tramp” was an underdog everyman endowed with dignity, tenderness, and a strong spirit. Chaplin described him in Alexander Walker’s book “Stardom” as “many-sided, a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo-player, however, he is not above picking up a cigarette butt or robbing a baby of its candy”. This character was so indelibly beloved, Chaplin and the “Tramp” became synonymous.




Georgia Hale and The Tramp lone prospector in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

After First National denied him additional money, Chaplin formed a new distribution company in 1919 with movie star husband and wife Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and director D.W. Griffith called United Artists, which gave each of them the ability to personally fund their own films with complete creative control over them. Once Chaplin fulfilled his contractual obligations at First National, he became an independent producer making films for United Artists. From this point on, he only made feature films. His first as an independent was the 1923 serious dramatic feature length "A Woman of Paris”, which he wrote, directed, and produced, and only appeared in it in a small cameo. Though a critical success, audiences wanted to see Chaplin onscreen and the film saw only lukewarm box-office profits.


a long line of prospectors go over the Chilkoot Pass in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Wanting to return to comedy and to his “Tramp” character, Chaplin intended his second film for United Artists outdo even the blockbuster success of “The Kid”. He felt he needed to make some sort of epic but was at a loss for an idea. While spending a weekend with Fairbanks and Pickford at their home Pickfair, Chaplin came across a stereoscopic 3D photograph showing a long line of prospectors going up Alaska’s Chilkoot Pass in the snow with the hardships they endured described on the back of the photo. That sparked an idea for a movie. He’d also read a book about the Donner Party (a group of American pioneers snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains who out of desperation ate their hides, moccasins, and even the bodies of those who died to survive), which became the other heavy influence for what would become “The Gold Rush”. The film turned out to be a megahit, and at the time, Chaplin said it was the film for which he wanted to be remembered. It remains one of his true masterpieces.


Mack Swain and the Tramp lone prospector are hungry in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

Taking time to make films exactly how he wanted, Chaplin’s next film came three years later – 1928’s “The Circus”, which he starred in, wrote, produced, and directed, and which earned him an Honorary Academy Award. A letter from the Academy to Chaplin in 1929 stated: "The Academy Board of Judges on merit awards for individual achievements in motion picture arts during the year ending August 1, 1928, unanimously decided that your name should be removed from the competitive classes, and that a special first award be conferred upon you for writing, acting, directing and producing ‘The Circus’. The collective accomplishments thus displayed place you in a class by yourself”.


Malcolm Waite and the Tramp fight in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

By the time "The Circus" was released, sound had taken over the movies (starting with 1927’s "The Jazz Singer") and silent films were fading away. Being a pantomimist, wanting to keep the "Tramp" voiceless so he’d remain relatable to people of all languages, and unhappy with the reliance on dialogue and lack of artistry in early silent films, Chaplin defiantly continued making silent movies. His next was 1931's "City Lights", which was a surprise box-office hit despite being silent, and is often considered Chaplin's finest film (it was also Chaplin's personal favorite, his second being "The Gold Rush"). His next film, another masterwork, came five years later in 1936, the virtually silent "Modern Times", which he produced, directed, wrote, and scored, and it featured sound effects, almost no dialogue, and the final appearance of the “Tramp" (who remains silent except for singing a song in gibberish – the first and only time the "Tramp's" voice is ever heard in a movie).


The Tramp gestures $5 to shovel snow in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Four years later, Chaplin produced, directed, wrote, and scored yet another mesmerizing sensation, 1940's "The Great Dictator", an antifascist, antiwar, satirical comedy about Adolf Hitler, and Chaplin's first fully sound film. Insisting he'd never portray the "Tramp" in a sound movie, Chaplin plays two characters in the film – a Jewish barber (who some feel is a version of the “Tramp”), and a dictator named "Adenoid Hynkel” (based on Hitler). “The Great Dictator” earned Chaplin two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Screenplay, and one for Best Actor. 


Mack Swain and The Tramp lone prospector feel their cabin tilt in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Portrait photo of middle aged Hollywood movie star, silent film actor, writer, director, composer, Charles Charlie Chaplin not in Tramp costume
Charles Chaplin

A few years after "The Great Dictator", Chaplin's popularity began to fade due to mounting offscreen controversies and scandals. At this point in time he was involved in a very public paternity case with actress Joan Barry, was facing trumped up charges that he was allegedly involved in sex trafficking (of which he was acquitted), and his liberal leanings, sympathy for the working class, support for Russia against the Nazis during World War II, and fervent advocacy for peace had J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI unjustly target him as a communist. In 1947, at the start of the Red Scare, Chaplin was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUACC), but because there was no evidence proving he was a security threat, he was never called to testify (I explain HUACC and the Red Scare in my post on “High Noon”). All these things, true or not, damaged Chaplin’s image.


Henry Bergman gives the Tramp lone prospector coffee in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Chaplin's next film was a 1947 dark comedy about a bigamist serial killer called "Monsieur Verdoux". It was not a success but earned him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination. Next came 1952's "Limelight", and the day after he left the United States to go to its London premiere, the US government revoked his re-entry permit. So Chaplin and his wife stayed in Europe and moved to Switzerland. As soon as he became a political exile, ”Limelight" was pulled from American theaters right after it opened. The film won several international awards, but because it hadn't yet screened in Los Angeles, it wasn't eligible for Oscars.


The Tramp lone prospector and Georgia Hale on a ship in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Chaplin made only two more films, both in England: 1957's "A King in New York", which he produced, wrote, directed, scored, and starred in; and 1967's "A Countess from Hong Kong", which he wrote, directed, scored, and appeared in a cameo role (the film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando). In 1972, “Limelight” finally premiered and played in Los Angeles, making it eligible for Oscars, and Chaplin (along with Ray Rasch and Larry Russell) won a Best Original Score Academy Award two decades after the film was made. Also in 1972, Chaplin briefly returned to the United States to accept an Honorary Academy Award for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century". He reportedly received a twelve minute standing ovation.


Henry Bergman carries the frozen Tramp lone prospector in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Portrait photo of middle aged Hollywood movie star, silent film actor, writer, director, composer, Charles Charlie Chaplin not in Tramp costume
Charles Chaplin

Chaplin’s offscreen scandals included his love life and marriages, the first of which was when the nearly 30 year old Chaplin married sixteen year old actress Mildred Harris when she thought she was pregnant with his child. They married to avoid a scandal and though it was a false alarm, she was soon pregnant with a son who died three days after his birth. Chaplin and Harris divorced after less than two years of marriage. His next wife was actress Lita Grey, who he first became infatuated with when she was twelve years old and appeared in "The Kid" as an angel. They developed a serious relationship when she was fifteen and she was hired to play "Georgia" in "The Gold Rush”. When the now sixteen year old Grey got pregnant, the thirty-five year old Chaplin secretly married her in Mexico. Because she was pregnant, he replaced her in the film. Their unhappy marriage ended in a scandalous, bitter public divorce with Grey receiving a $600,000 settlement (the largest in American courts at the time), which the press dubbed "The Second Gold Rush". They had two children, actors Charles Chaplin Jr. and Sidney Chaplin.


The Tramp lone prospector is alone on New Years Eve  in his cabin in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush”

In 1932, Chaplin began dating twenty-one year old actress and divorcée Paulette Goddard. He catapulted her to stardom in 1936, giving her the female lead opposite him in "Modern Times", and after living together for a couple of years, they reportedly married in China after the film was released. Though there's some speculation that their marriage was legal, it was a certified common law marriage. Goddard also appeared opposite Chaplin in "The Great Dictator", after which, their happy marriage ended (though they remained lifelong friends). You can read more about Paulette Goddard in my post on "The Women”. Just click the title to open the post.


Georgia Hale and the Tramp lone prospector about to kiss in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

At fifty-four, Chaplin married for a fourth and final time, this time to eighteen year old Oona O'Neill, the daughter of American playwright Eugene O'Neill. They had a very happy marriage and O'Neill left acting to become a wife and mother. They had eight children (including actress Geraldine Chaplin, actor Michael Chaplin, circus performer Victoria Chaplin, and composer and actor Christopher Chaplin) and remained married until Chaplin's death. Charles Chaplin died in 1977 at the age of 88, and you can read more about his life and career in my previous post on "City Lights”. Be sure to check it out and watch that magnificent film.


The Tramp runs as Tom Murray and Mack Swain wrestle with a gun in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Because Chaplin's work as a director seems simple, it's not often talked about. In “The Chaplin Archives”, Chaplin says “I am not sophisticated at all. It is pure instinct with me – dramatic instinct. I don’t figure it out, I just know it is right or wrong”. This is evident in his direction, which is clearly guided by feel rather than intellectual or technical razzle-dazzle. Chaplin instinctually knows perfect camera placement and choice of shots to construct a comedic pace and offer emotional payoffs. Take the scene when "Big Jim" and "Black Larsen" fight over a gun that somehow keeps getting pointed at the "Lone Prospector”. Chaplin begins with a far shot establishing the action of the fight with the “Lone Prospector” running around the cabin to avoid the gun. He then cuts to a medium shot which shows the three men but focuses our attention on the gun and riotous fear of the “Lone Prospector”, and then cuts back to the far shot, giving us the broadest, most full sense of the comedy, situation, and action of each of the three men. His unembellished direction pinpoints and accentuates the comedy through and through.


A hobo vagabond prospector watches The tramp and Georgia dance in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Chaplin’s editing also deepens emotion while adding comedy and plot, such as the humor and hope felt from a quick cutaway to a vagabond watching the “Lone Prospector” dance with “Georgia”, or the poignancy in showing people's faces singing "Auld Lang Syne” while ringing in the New Year. Chaplin notoriously took endless retakes on all his films until he got exactly what he wanted. He acted out every role for every performer (including all extras) with such charm and feeling, no one could help but give a great performance. Credit must be given to Chaplin’s direction as a major reason as to why his films are so movingly funny.


A long line of Prospectors go up the Chilhoot Pass in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

“The Gold Rush” was Chaplin's most ambitious film, the most expensive comedy produced at the time, and the longest in length. The opening scenes (which replicated the 3D photo that gave Chaplin the idea for the film) were shot on location in the snow and cold of the Sierra Nevada mountains, close to where the actual Donner party was stranded. At an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet, a 2,300 foot long path was cut through the snow rising up 1000 feet, with steps carved into the ice at the top. Over 500 extras were hired for the long line of prospectors – mostly homeless transported from nearby Sacramento, along with the film’s cast and crew who were not otherwise involved in the scene. The vagrants were not paid until they were returned to Sacramento, insuring they wouldn’t stay or disperse in the Sierra Nevada area.


a cabin in the Alaska snow covered mountains teeters on a cliff in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Chaplin intended the entire film to be shot on location, but when the weather and snow proved too difficult to control to get the effects he wanted, he had the snowy environment recreated via sets in his studio in the sunny heat of California. The only location shots in the film are those in the opening and on a boat. Miniatures of the cabin were built and used for various special effects, which still hold up today. “The Gold Rush” took two years to prepare and fifteen months to film. It was a blockbuster hit, earning well over $4M during its initial release alone, and according to Variety magazine, it remains the 5th highest grossing silent film in history.


Mack Swain sees the Tramp lone prospector as a giant chicken in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

portrait photo of early Hollywood cinematographer cameraman Roland Totheroh
Roland Totheroh

Roland Totheroh was cinematographer on "The Gold Rush", as well as Chaplin's unofficial assistant director. These were the days before computers, and all effects had to be meticulously planned ahead and executed inside the camera. That includes fades and dissolves, such as when the "Lone Prospector” turns into a giant chicken, for which Totheroh filmed the "Tramp", rewound the film inside the camera and then filmed Chaplin inside the chicken suit on top of the previous footage, figuring out precisely how many frames it would take for the dissolve. He also combined two pieces of film inside the camera for effects such as "Black Larsen" running on the snow as the ice breaks off the mountain, and filmed scenes through a glass matte painting, such as the cliff on which we first see the "Lone Prospector". And if all of that doesn’t seem overwhelming, keep in mind that cameras at the time had to be cranked by hand. 


Tom Murray is Black Larsen on the snowy mountains of Alaska in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

California-born Roland Totheroh was Chaplin's cinematographer of choice during his entire career, shooting over thirty Chaplin films from the 1915 silent short "Work" until the 1947 sound feature "Monsieur Verdoux" (Totheroh's also credited as Photographic Consultant on "Limelight"). He shot several non-Chaplin films, including a couple early silent shorts and his final film, the 1948 drama "Song of My Heart". He married twice. Roland Totheroh died in 1967 at the age of 76.


The Tramp lone prospector is handed a note in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Hollywood film production designer movie art director Charles D. Hall working at this desk
Charles D. Hall

A name that should be familiar to readers of this blog is that of the film's uncredited production designer Charles D. Hall. Hall does a fantastic job transporting us to the cold, windy, desolate environment of snow-filled Alaska, whether along a snowy cliff, inside a rickety cabin, or in a bustling Western dance hall. Hall served as production designer at Charles Chaplin Studios from the beginning, with 1918’s “A Dog’s Life”, working on all Chaplin’s films through “Modern Times”. He art directed many non-Chaplin classics as well, finding his niche in the horror genre, and his work continues to be enormously influential. You can read more about the life and career of the visionary Charles D. Hall in two of my previous posts, "Frankenstein" and "All Quiet on the Western Front”.


Mack Swain and the Tramp Lone Prospector try to stop their cabin from tilting and falling off a cliff in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Also adding much of the film’s comedy is Mack Swain, as prospector “Big Jim McKay”. This bear of a man is hysterical, such as the way he runs through the snow holding on to his tent for dear life, how he envisions the "Lone Prospector" as a chicken, or works with the "Lone Prospector" to try and prevent their cabin from falling off a cliff. It’s not surprising he’s so funny, because by the time of “The Gold Rush”, Swain was already a silent comedy film star veteran.


Mack Swain as Big Jim McKay in a bear suit in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

portrait photo of silent film comedian movie character actor Mack Sawin
Mack Swain

Utah-born Mack Swain ran away from home at the age of 15 to join a minstrel show and never looked back. He had a very successful career performing in and owning his own theater stock company before starting a film career with Mack Sennett at Keystone just before Chaplin, where he and Chaplin became friends and coworkers, appearing together in films such as "Laughing Gas" and "Mabel's Married Life”. Swain soon became famous for his pairings with Chester Conklin and playing a character named "Ambrose". When Swain left Keystone, he worked again with Chaplin at First National in films that include "The Idle Class" and "The Pilgrim". Today his best remembered role is "Big Jim McKay" in "The Gold Rush". He appeared in over 160 films, including the 1928 silent film version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", and his final film, 1935's "Bad Boy". He also starred in and directed 15 of the "Ambrose" silent shorts. He was married once until his death. Mack Swain died in 1935 at the age of 59.


Malcolm Waite and Georgia Hale in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Georgia Hale plays “Georgia”, the hardened, defiant dance hall girl who wants a change. Hale does a fine job standing her ground in the dance hall, cruelly teasing the "Lone Prospector" with her girlfriends in his cabin, softening when she sees the New Year’s decorations, and being caring and concerned aboard a ship. This film was the pinnacle of Hale’s brief movie career and remains her best remembered role.


Georgia Hale stas as dancehall girl in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

Glamor potrait photo of silent movie star film actress Georgia Hale
Georgia Hale

Missouri-born Georgia Hale was crowned Miss Chicago and was in the 1922 Miss America Pageant, and used her winnings with the hopes of becoming a New York stage actress. After an uncredited role in the 1921 silent short "The Taxi Driver", a lack of work led to her Hollywood, where she got bit parts in a few films in 1924 before Josef von Sternberg cast her as the female lead in his directorial debut, 1925’s "The Salvation Hunters". Chaplin saw Hale in that film, and based on her introspective quality, cast her as "Georgia" when he needed to replace Lita Grey. Chaplin hired Hale again briefly when he fired leading actress Virginia Cherrill in "City Lights", but ended up rehiring Cherrill. Hale starred in just a dozen more films (all believed to be lost), including the silents "The Rainmaker", "The Great Gatsby", and "The Floating College". Her career ended with the advent of sound, with her final film being the 1931 Rin Tin Tin Western "The Lightning Warrior". She remained friends with Chaplin and reportedly visited him during his brief visit to the US in 1972. Post acting, she taught dance and made a hefty living from real estate investments. She never married, but lived with a man for the last fifteen years of her life. Georgia Hale died in 1985 at the age of 84.


The Tramp lone prospector  prepares his cabin for New Years Eve celebration in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

In 1942, Chaplin reworked “The Gold Rush” and released a sound version of it, removing all intertitles, adding dialogue, narration, and some sound effects. He also rearranged sequences, deleted several scenes, and added a music score by Max Terr. Both Terr’s score and the sound recording by James L. Fields earned Academy Award nominations (Best Original Score and Best Sound Recording). Chaplin evidently preferred the 1942 version of the film, but like most, I feel the original silent version is the definitive one. There have been many poor quality versions of this film shown on TV through the years, so be sure find a remastered version when you watch it.


The Tramp Lone Prospector is lost in the snowy mountains of Alaska in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

A film overflowing with laughter and tears, this week’s classic is a perfect way to say goodbye to the ups and downs of a past year, and hello to a bright and hopeful new one. Having lost none of its humor or poignancy, it remains one of the truly great comedies of cinema. Enjoy “The Gold Rush”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):




The Tramp lone prospector carves and eats his shoe boot in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
"The Gold Rush"

“The Gold Rush” contains some of the most iconic scenes in all of cinema, one of which is the “Lone Prospector” eating his shoe. Chaplin’s movements and expressions while cooking, preparing, sharpening the knives, and eating the shoe are nothing short of brilliant. The shoes were made of licorice by a confectioner from a mold, with nails made of hard candy. Twenty boots were made for the scene, and it took 63 takes and over three days to film. According to Chaplin, eating so much licorice gave Swain diarrhea the last two days of filming.


The Tramp Lone Prospector uses forks and bread rolls to do the oceana dance of the rolls in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

Another immortal scene (often called “The Oceana Roll” or the “Dance of the Rolls”) is when the “Lone Prospector” imagines entertaining “Georgia” and her friends with a dance using forks and rolls as tiny legs and feet underneath his large face. Chaplin liked to do this routine at parties and restaurants, and the music played while filming was the ragtime song “The Oceana Roll”. After the first take, the crew evidently burst into applause, but the perfectionist Chaplin chose to do over a dozen more takes. The look on his face during the dance is priceless. The “Lone Prospector” dreams of being loved and accepted only to wake up alone. It's classic Chaplin – a moving mix of laughter and heartbreak. According to Chaplin expert and biographer Jeffrey Vance in his 2012 Criterion DVD commentary, "At the Berlin premiere, the audience gave the dance of the rolls scene such a thunderous ovation that the management instructed the projectionist to rewind the film and present an immediate encore. Similar incidents were reported throughout the world”.


The Tramp lone prospector feels his cabin tilting in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

A third standout scene is when the “Lone Prospector” and “Big Jim McKay” wake up to find their cabin teetering on a snowy precipice. The inside of the cabin in that uproarious scene was built on a swivel so it could rotate, and was raised about ten feet above the floor and tilted by pulleys and ropes. I’ve watched the scene over a dozen times and still get belly laughs.


The Tramp Lone Prospector is followed by a real bear on a snowy cliff in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

In case you were curious, that is a real bear following the “Lone Prospector” at the beginning of the film, and the bear appears again in a couple of shots at the cabin (interwoven with obvious shots of someone in a bear costume).


Mack Swain and crowd at New Years Eve in a Gold mining town dance hall in Charles Charlie Chaplin's Hollywood classic silent film movie masterpiece in Alaska "The Gold Rush"
“The Gold Rush”

You may have noticed that the film takes place roughly from Thanksgiving to New Years, with no mention of Christmas. That's because Chaplin loathed Christmas, feeling it was too commercialized, and it reminded him of his difficult childhood.

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