‘The Gold Rush’ – Charlie Chaplin in the frozen North on Max and Criterion Channel

The Gold Rush (1925), Charlie Chaplin’s frozen north classic, is just as funny today as it was seventy years ago, and just as mawkishly sentimental.

The Little Tramp is little more than a lovestruck adolescent stepping through emotional trap doors—he lives in a romantic dream world while the social reality rebuffs his awkward, mooning advances. Give him a prop and a stage, however, and he brings elegance to vaudeville, whether he’s eating a boiled shoe, making a pair of rolls dance on the table, or scrambling across the floor of a cabin teetering on the edge of a cliff.

The Little Tramp is not just another prospector hiking into the Alaskan interior with hundreds of ill-equipped dreamers and scruffy roughnecks, he’s the pluckiest of them all. Astoundingly, Chaplin shot it on location in the snowy mountains of northern California, and the outdoor photography gives this intimate comedy an epic backdrop. On the screen he meets deprivation and starvation with ingenuity and farce, but the filmmaker believe in the underdog romance of his story. I believe in the slapstick ballet of his physical comedy.



In 1942, Chaplin cut more than 20 minutes from the original 1925 silent version and re-released the film with narration replacing the intertitles and a different final shot. This was Chaplin’s preferred version and thus was better preserved and the version most readily available. The silent version, however, is the original, the actual “director’s cut” of the film, and it is still the superior version. The cuts and the new narration have a tendency to sentimentalize the film even more.

The original version, however, also fell into the public domain and there are many inferior editions on home video. We only recommend superior editions at Stream On Demand, which are (as of this posting) available on Max and Criterion Channel.

It was added to the National Film Registry in 1992 and tied for second place in the original 1952 Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll. The 1942 rerelease earned Oscar nominations for sound and music.

For more on the film, read this essay from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival by Jeffrey Vance.

Black and white, silent with music score.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Gold Rush (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
The Gold Rush (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
The Gold Rush: Two Disc Special Edition [DVD]

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The Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD feature both the 1942 sound release and the 1925 original cut, the latter remastered from a new edition of the reconstructed original, restored in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna and presented with a new recording of Charlie Chaplin’s score arranged and conducted by Timothy Brock. Chaplin biography Jeffrey Vance provides commentary for the 1925 version of the film.

Also includes the short French TV documentary “Chaplin Today: The Gold Rush” (2002) the original featurettes “Presenting The Gold Rush,” featuring Vance and silent film historian Kevin Brownlow (who helped restore the 1925 version); “A Time of Innovation: Visual Effects in The Gold Rush” (20 minutes), featuring visual effects specialist Craig Barron and archival interviews with Chaplin cinematographer Roland Totheroh; and “Music by Charles Chaplin” (25 minutes), with silent-film composer/conductor Timothy Brock.

An earlier Warner Home Video DVD release also features both cuts of the film, with Neil Brand playing a rescored version of the original 1925 film’s original compilation score by Karlie D. Elinor, plus documentary “Chaplin Today: The Gold Rush,” an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, a gallery of 250 production stills and historical photos from the real life gold rush, and trailers from around the world.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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