A Summary and Review of The Gold Rush

A Summary and Review of The Gold Rush

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  1. The Gold Rush (1925)

    Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
    Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain


    Before reading the rest of the summary, you should know that there are actually two different versions of this film. There is the original version which is completely silent, then there is the re-edited 1942 release that was edited by Charlie himself and in which Charlie provides voiceover. The differences in the two versions will be mentioned when appropriate.

    Charlie’s famous character, The Little Tramp, plays a "lone prospector" who takes part of the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. Searching for treasure and fortune, he finds himself in the middle of a terrible blizzard. Fortunately, he stumbles upon a cabin where two fellow prospectors, Big Jim McKay and Black Larsen (who is actually an escaped fugitive) are staying. They allow Charlie to stay with them until the blizzard passes.

    Eventually, they run out of provisions and desperately need one of them to venture out into the storm to find food and supplies. Black Larsen volunteers, and Charlie and Big Jim have no choice but to wait until he comes back. Unbeknownst to the two,¬†Larsen is not coming back. Soon after leaving, he runs into a couple of cops and, after a shootout, runs away to hide. The two men begin to grow weary, and unable to take the hunger any longer, resort to eating Charlie’s boot.

    More time passes, and Big Jim is growing delirious. Out of deprivation, he begins to imagine Charlie as a chicken, and attempts to eat him. In the scrap, Charlie manages to kill a bear, which provides them with enough food to wait out the storm. When the winds are calm, they part ways. On his way home, Big Jim is overjoyed to find a large treasure trove of gold.

    Unfortunately, Larsen shows up and tries to claim the gold for himself. He knocks out Big Jim but is killed when an avalanche smashes into him. The mark that indicates where the gold is becomes washed away in the process. Big Jim wakes to find that his memory has gone and has no recollection of what happened.

    Charlie manages to find a small mountain town. Trying to find some place to stay, Charlie finds a small cabin owned by another prospector. Charlie tricks him into letting Charlie in by faking an injury. The prospector tries to revive Charlie and insists that he stay with him until Charlie feels better. In fact, the prospector mentions that he leaving, and asks Charlie to watch the cabin until he returns.

    At the local saloon, he sees a beautiful dancer by the name of Georgia, and just like that, Charlie is in love. Georgia has a boyfriend however named Jack, who is rather abusive and unappreciative to her. In an effort to make Jack jealous, Georgia dances with the poor destitute Charlie and Charlie is thrilled. He tries to speak to her before she leaves, but he doesn’t get a chance too. Charlie swoons over her as she leaves and finds a picture of her that she had left behind.

    While playing in the snow, Georgia and her friends stumble upon Charlie’s cabin and he is delighted to see her again. He invites them in and the girls have casual conversation with the nervous awkward Charlie. When he leaves the room, Georgia finds her picture under Charlie’s pillow. The girls laugh and mock him, but Georgia seems to be touched by the gesture. Charlie, not knowing they had discovered the picture, invites her and her girlfriends to New Years Eve dinner at the cabin and they agree to come.

    Trying to earn enough money for the dinner, Charlie does a series of odd jobs, such as snow-shoveling. When the date comes, he is ecstatic and can’t wait to see his beloved. He imagines their dinner together and they ask him to give a speech. Not one for speeches, Charlie suggests that he do a dance instead. What follows is most likely Charlie’s most famous scene in all his movies. He takes two forks, jabs them into two dinner rolls, and makes them dance as if the forks are legs and the rolls are feet. Suddenly, he awakens to realize it was all a dream, and that they had not arrived yet, despite being several hours late.

    Charlie gives up hope after waiting too long and leaves the cabin for a walk. The girls are busy partying when Georgia suddenly remembers Charlie’s invitation. She mentions it to the other girls and they head to the cabin. The girls arrive, only to find very flashy decorations, extravagant presents, and a lovely dinner that they had missed. The girls and Jack shrug and laugh it off but Georgia is crushed and feels terrible. Jack tries to sneak a kiss from her, but she refuses and gives him a hard slap in the face and storms off.

    An absolutely defeated Charlie wanders around the saloon a few days later.¬† This is a moment that is different in the two versions of the film. In the original, Georgia writes Jack a note, apologizing about what happened and expressing her love for him. When he receives the note, he gives it to Charlie as a joke, and Charlie thinks it’s for him. In the re-edited version, the fact that Georgia had written the note for Jack is cut out, which indicates that Georgia had originally intended the note for Charlie. Just as that moment, Big Jim walks into the saloon, recognizes Charlie, and remembers everything. An excited Big Jim insists to Charlie that he must come with him to find the gold. Before leaving, Charlie tells a confused Georgia that he received her note and will return for her, all the while, expressing his love for her.

    The two men venture out into the tundra and look for the cabin as a reference point. When they do, a freak wind blows the cabin nearly off the edge. Charlie and Big Jim barely make it out alive. As soon as they escape near-death, they discover the hidden gold and exclaim with joy.

    Sometime later, Big Jim and Charlie are rich, famous, and happy. They are on a ship to go on a big trip. Charlie is happy with his newfound fame and fortune, but he feels empty, not yet having the chance to come back for Georgia. Little does he know that Georgia is actually on the same ship, trying to escape Jack. She also overhears the captain saying that they’re looking for a stowaway. Meanwhile, photographers want Charlie to dress up in his old miner clothes for a picture. A mishap has Charlie falling into a bunch of rope, where Georgia is sitting. They are ecstatic to see each other again. However, seeing as Charlie is dressed in his old clothes and seems to be hiding underneath the rope, she mistakes him for the stowaway. Charlie tries to explain, but she doesn’t believe him. Then, Charlie’s photographers and entourage come looking for him and prove Charlie was telling the truth.

    Here is another difference in the two versions. In the original, Charlie asks Georgia to come with him to his cabin, and the photographers suggest taking a picture with them. As soon as the picture flashes, Charlie steals a kiss from Georgia, and they continue to embrace and kiss as the photographers complain that they’re "ruining the shot." In the re-edited version, Charlie and Georgia are simply seen walking upstairs, with Georgia looking confused and unsure, which provides a more ambiguous ending.


    Charlie has often been quoted saying that this is the film he wanted to be most remembered by. It’s no surprise seeing as this is the absolutely perfect film for him to be remembered by.

    The Gold Rush is often considered to be one of Charlie’s greatest works, simply because it perfectly showcases what made Charlie Chaplin a genius. It rivals The Circus as his funniest film and it rivals The Kid and City Lights as his most touching. It may not be his absolute technically best film, but it is a favorite among his fans. The Gold Rush is also one of his most successful, being nominated for two Academy awards (Best Sound for 1942 version and Best Music for original) and winning the Kinema Junpo Award in Japan for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was also added into the National Film Registry, which is a branch of the Library of Congress. A film is entered into the Registry when it is deemed "culturally, aesthetically, or technically significant." Only the most influential and important films have such an honor.

    Both versions of the film are great, but most fans prefer the original. No matter what, Charlie is always a giant ball of energy, charm, and hilarity. It never ceases to amaze how prolific he is at making you laugh, cry, and smile. Charlie’s incredible ability to effortlessly mend together romance, slapstick, and brilliant storytelling is dumbfounding. The Gold Rush is a masterpiece in every sense of the world.

    RATING: 100/100

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