Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Gold Rush (1925)
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The Gold Rush (1925) is the quintessential Chaplin/Little Tramp film, with a balance of slapstick comedy and pantomime, social satire, and emotional and dramatic moments of tenderness. It was Chaplin's own personal favorite film, that showcases the classic Tramp character (referred to as "The Little Fellow" in the re-release version) as a romantic idealist and lone gold prospector at the turn of the century, with his cane, derby, distinctive walk, tight shabby suit, and mustache.

Classic scenes include the starvation scene of two cabin-marooned prospectors boiling and fastidiously eating a stewed shoe, the Tramp's cabin-mate deliriously imagining his companion as a large chicken, the teetering cabin on the edge of a cliff, and Chaplin's lonely fantasized New Year's Eve party (with the dancing dinner rolls routine) when he waits for a girl who never comes.

Early working titles for the film included Lucky Strike and The Northern Story. The film, inspired in part by the gruesome Donner Party story, was shot (over a period of 15 months from spring 1924-summer 1925) both on a Hollywood studio back lot and in Truckee, California/Nevada, and premiered in New York at the Strand Theatre in mid-August, 1925. Chaplin's film was re-released in 1942 with added sound narration and music, both spoken and composed/arranged by Chaplin.

Plot Synopsis

It is prefaced with historical background:

During the Great Gold Rush to Alaska, men in thousands came from all parts of the world. Many of them were ignorant of the hardships before them - The intense cold, the lack of food and a journey through regions of ice and snow were the problems that awaited them.

In the spectacular opening scene, there is a view of an endless trail/line of hundreds of prospectors in the Klondike of Alaska in 1898, in the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. They are winding their way along to seek their fortunes, climbing up a mountain through the snow-covered Chilkoot Pass in search of the gold fields: "The Chilkoot Pass. A test of man's endurance. At this point, many turned back discouraged, while others went naively on." And then, "Three days from anywhere - a Lone Prospector," a lone Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) appears. With his cane, he is making his own trail on a snow-covered path, unaware that he is being followed by a bear.

Another fortune-hunter is Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), who has just made a lucky strike fortune of gold. He exclaims, with outstretched arms: "I've found it! I've found it! A Mountain of Gold." Perilously lost, and facing a blizzard storm, the Tramp blindly seeks shelter. At the same time, Big Jim's tent is blown away in the storm. The Tramp arrives at the lone cabin of fearsome trapper Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a violent and "wanted" man. He enters the cabin, warming himself. But then, Black Larsen appears and he is ordered out. In a well-designed sight gag, the strong wind makes it appear that he is on a treadmill. The fierce wind blows him in and out of the doors of the cabin and also blows in Big Jim. Both men seek refuge in Black Larsen's cabin.

Black Larsen orders both of them out. He and Jim wrestle with a shot gun, forever aiming the muzzle of the gun at the Tramp during their struggle. Thanks to Big Jim's physical strength, Black Larsen is overpowered (and congratulated by the Tramp), and they are allowed to stay. When their food gives out, Jim experiences hunger hallucinations. The three draw cards in a lottery (the low man goes) and Larsen is sent out into the wilderness to brave the storm and search for help, food and provisions. Out in the wilds, he encounters two lawmen who are looking for him. Following a struggle, he cold-bloodedly shoots both law officers.

Inside the cabin meanwhile, hungry and desperate, the Tramp and Big Jim celebrate "Thanksgiving Dinner," in a famous, classic feast/meal scene. The Tramp and Big Jim are reduced to starvation, so the Tramp resorts to boiling and cooking a tasty dinner for them. He chooses one of his boots [actually black licorice] as the object of their Thanksgiving dinner, taking on airs as a gourmet at a feast. He watches it cooking on the stove until perfectly simmered. He then carves the boot (splitting and cutting it like a filet), and offers the upper part to Big Jim. He pours water over it like gravy. He chews on the lower sole part, treating it like a delicacy, and he twirls the laces like spaghetti. He daintily sucks the nails, like they were the bones of a game bird, or small fishbones.

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