- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (1925 reissue); (1942 remake)
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080p/24 (23.976Hz)
- Audio Codec: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: None
- Region: A (Region-Locked)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: The Criterion Collection
- Blu-ray Release Date: June 12, 20112
- List Price: $39.95
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There are legends, and then there are legends, and Charlie Chaplin clearly belongs to this latter group. The Gold Rush, a Jack London-based story of prospecting for gold in Alaska, received its silent screen debut in 1925. It is the simple story of a down-at-the-heels young man, The Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) who seeks gold in the desolate mountains. Along the way he encounters the evil Black Larsen (Tom Murray) and the luckless prospector, Big Jim (Mack Swain). A romantic subplot involves Georgia (Georgia Hale), a dance hall girl and the Tramp. After some thrills and many literal spills, it all works out for the best.
The first selection in this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is the original silent version (with a new soundtrack based on Chaplin’s compositions) that has been cobbled together from remaining souvenirs of the original film. In the 1942 “revision,” we get an edited version with Chaplin’s narration of the story line and some voiced dialogue. It is also cut by about 15 minutes, largely from the Georgia-Little Tramp love affair scenes. For the times, the $2 million original production costs made this a hugely expensive undertaking that eventually yielded triple its costs in revenues. Filming in the Sierra Nevada lent an authenticity to the Klondike setting and the overwhelming sense of the miners’ futility. There are many classic scenes, like the boiled shoe dinner in the desolate cabin or the cabin about to tip over the cliff that, in an hour and a half, make viewers understand the genius that was Chaplin. The comic overtones contrast sharply with the grim scenario of prospectors about to starve to death.
Given the considerable age of the original print, the ability to revive this movie to acceptable viewing standards is nothing short of amazing. Comparing the two versions, the later remake has slightly better print quality, while the 1925 has more content. Since multiple sources were used, as described in a supplemental documentary, I am even more impressed with what the restoration team was able to achieve. Obviously, not up to today’s higher resolution standards, it is still a very viewable film.
Of course, silent films had no soundtrack. The 1925 release gets an updated 2007 score based on that issued with the 1942 reissue. It is presented in very listenable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, quite a bit better than the PCM 1.0 Mono track of the later film. The vocal track of the 1942 film is clear and somewhat necessitated by the cutting out of the occasional titles. I frankly preferred the voiceless version since it presents the film more as it would have appeared to the original audiences. The acting is sufficiently demonstrative that most viewers will not have any confusion about what the silent dialogue is trying to convey.
The Criterion Collection provides a nice booklet with some stills from the production and essays by Luc Sante and famed author James Agee. You get in-depth analysis of the production techniques, cinematography, and directorial decision-making, as well as a look into the film star who was Charlie Chaplin. Featurettes include the following:
- “Presenting the Gold Rush”: The making and restoration of the films
- “Chaplin Today: “The Gold Rush” : A retrospective on Chaplin and this film
- “A Time of Innovation: Visual Effects in The Gold Rush”: An analysis of the special camera work that was quite advanced for the era.
- Chaplin’s Film Music: fascinating look into Chaplin’s film compositions
The Definitive Word
The Gold Rush was an epic film for its times that has been praised by the American Film Institute. In it, Chaplin established his role as “ The Little Tramp,” his most successful cinematic persona. The physical comedy required to bring off the plot elements reflect the pinnacle of this cinematic genre. It is much appreciated that the Criterion Collection saw fit to present both versions with astonishingly successful restoration of the original release. We are now allowed to see Chaplin’s original and final thoughts on this film and may choose between them or not. Silent films are an art form that reached its zenith in the late 1920’s and placed premiums on the ability of characters to communicate to an audience without the use of a vocal soundtrack. There is a fine balance between over-and under-emoting that distinguishes the top performers of the era from the also-rans. I am happy to report that principal cast rises to the occasion, again a reflection of Chaplin’s casting and directing genius. Even if you are not a silent flicker fanatic, do yourself a giant favor and take a gander at this one: regardless of era, it is and remains one terrific watch.
Additional Screen Captures