Although it might be easy to watch a second-rate version of this film on your computer, seeing The Gold Rush as it was first shown (on the big screen with Charlie Chaplin’s own music played live) was not something to be missed. Widely acclaimed as one of the best movies of all time as well as the best silent comedy ever made, The Gold Rush has endured countless advancements in filmmaking and continues to come out on top. Charlie Chaplin himself declared this “the picture I want to be remembered by,” perhaps because it captures the majority of Chaplin’s most iconic moments in film history. In fact, it was the first silent comedy to have a comedy set in a historical event, as well as the first silent comedy to shoot most scenes on location (even though most scenes didn’t make the cut), which was quite a feat seeing as though The Gold Rush is set with the Klondike region of north-western Canada as the background.
The Gold Rush is as much a drama as it is a comedy, emphasizing Chaplin’s own past as poor young man in London who was forced to work to feed his ill mother and younger sibling. The undertones of the film focus on hunger. The Tramp hungers for food, for financial stability, for love, and for acceptance. This theme is comedically exemplified in the iconic scene where the Tramp and Big Jim take hunger and starvation to the next level by boiling a shoe and serving it up like roast chicken. Chaplin does an exemplary job playing a character that is at once sympathetic and humorous. The Tramp character’s pitiful situation allured audiences into the film while also enjoying Chaplin’s famous slapstick comedy. The Gold Rush influenced comedies thereafter, both silent and sound. The idea of creating a comedy around an actual historical event, one that is quite depressing in reality, was a very new concept.
The film follows a couple of lone prospectors, one being the Tramp, as they search for gold during the Klondike Gold Rush. Along the way, the Tramp meets Georgia, the queen of the dance hall. Initially, he is mocked and becomes part of a game for Georgia and her friends. The sympathy towards the Tramp is significant, and yet Chaplin does a remarkable job keeping the comedic factor alive, making sure to keep the proper balance between humor and drama. The ending is sentimental, finishing up with the Little Tramp getting Georgia’s sincere affections and getting in on a good bit of gold.
The Gold Rush set the precedence for silent films and comedies thereafter. The bittersweetness of this film is perhaps why it is Chaplin’s self-proclaimed favorites. The film has substance; it doesn’t just rely on cheap tricks and special effects, something Chaplin took to heart. The Gold Rush proved that pure talent and a substantial story are all that’s needed to make a masterpiece.