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Warner Home Video presents
“Far into the icy north, deep into the silent nowhere, came an undaunted lone prospector.”
DVD ReviewChaplin's Little Tramp is an undying cinematic icon. One needs to merely construct a crude silhouette of a short man wearing a derby and carrying a cane to conjure up flashes of physical brilliance and touching emotion. He is the everyman, the downtrodden man, the outsider. He manifests the basic human desires for companionship, friendship, shelter, and even food. Perhaps I am reading too far into Chaplin's brilliant creation, but perhaps not. After all, Chaplin's intention in creating such a character was to not only entertain through his physical comedy, but to comment on society and what it means to be happy.
The Gold Rush is the film Chaplin wanted to be remembered by. He may very well have gotten his wish. It is arguably Chaplin's most famous film, filled with all of the amenities we come to expect from his multiple masterworks. A circular, episodic plot encapsulates scenes of hardship, friendship, redemption, and of course, true love. Like many of his other films, the camera is locked and somewhat unimaginative, depicting very stage-like compositions. What Chaplin lacked in camerawork he made up for in spades through his physical genius. Coming in at #74 on AFI's list of the 100 greatest films of all time, this is an undisputed classic seen the world over.
A Lone Prospector (Chaplin) treks his way across the snow covered Alaskan wilderness, leaving the thousands of other gold seekers behind. He becomes trapped in a storm, and stumbles upon the cabin of Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a wanted fugitive. After discovering a mountain of gold, Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) finds shelter in the same cabin. The trio is cold, tired, and, most of all, hungry. After plenty of conflict, a couple of creative meals and close calls with cannibalism, the Tramp stumbles into town and meets Georgia (Georgia Hale) in the local bar. After Cupid's arrow has taken effect, he must overcome his lack of stature to fight off her burly suitor, Jack (Malcolm Waite). Later, a New Year's Eve dinner is met with disappointment, only to be followed by a jubilant discovery, culminating in an ending only Chaplin could produce.
Originally released in 1925 as a silent (included on the second disc of this DVD set), the film was recut and re-released in 1942. The reissue features a new musical score and a spirited narration by Chaplin himself, substituting for the many text cards that were necessary in the silent version. However, the newer version lacks not only some smaller scenes (including the original ending), but the full power of its predecessor. Instead of the audience absorbing the images and well-timed dialogue cards, Chaplin distractingly acts out each character and sets each scene. This disrupts the pure experience of image and music that enhances Chaplin's brilliant hijinks.
The Gold Rush contains some of the most classic Chaplin moments ever captured on film. The plot is executed through a series of masterful comedic vignettes: The Prospector has an encounter with a bear without knowing it; he dines on his well-cooked leather shoe, eating as though he was in a fine gourmet restaurant, and, after twirling his shoelaces onto a fork like spaghetti, he licks the shoe's nails clean, as though they were chicken bones. The film also marks the first use of the optical printer, utilized to transform Chaplin into a man-sized chicken. Of course, how could I forget the Tramp's performance of the "Oceana Roll," an intricate dance of dinner rolls on forks? Chaplin's physical prowess and range is in top form, contorting in the wind in one scene and freezing stiff as a board in another. These moments are teamed with impressive set design and innovative visual effects. This is simply a delight to watch.
Chaplin aims to convey a clear message through expertly crafted physical comedy. In this case, the focus is materialism, and how can people turn into brutal, destructive beings in pursuit of things. This desire to obtain is not limited to gold. In the case of Georgia and the possessive Jack, people can be unjustly treated as property. Chaplin's gentlemanly demeanor denotes Chaplin's views on ideal personal conduct. Granted, the Tramp does take drastic, desperate measures in several scenes, but the essence of respectful, gentle care for others is readily present. Hopefully, films that are considered "great" contain ideas and messages; even though it does not reach the thematic heights of 1931's City Lights, The Gold Rush fits the bill.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The picture quality is stunning. The 1942 cut features rich blacks, fine contrast, and impressive detail. Film grain is present, but nowhere near distracting. Damage is infrequent, and the image is very film-like, avoiding the pitfalls associated with excessive digital processing. An entire RSDL disc is devoted to the film's lean 67-minute run time, maximizing quality. When the film was recut and reissued in 1942, it is likely that Chaplin worked from the original negative, creating prints that would be in inherently better shape than any from 1925. Consequently, its predecessor does not fare as well.
The preferred original 1925 silent version can be found cramped on Disc 2 in decidedly rougher shape. This is still a great transfer, mirroring some of the advances made by the 1942 version. However, print damage is more frequent and the image appears a bit washed out. Still, detail is decent and the film is relatively free of shudder. I would have rather seen this version on the first disc to give it some breathing room, but it is wonderful to have it restored in any form.
There is one issue with both transfers, however. It seems they are PAL to NTSC conversions, sourced from the original R2 French masters. As a result, there is some minor motion blurring and loss of detail when characters move. This does not ruin the experience, but it is noticeable on higher-end monitors. I can only imagine how great these would look if they were native NTSC!
Regardless of some minor drawbacks, this is a glorious restoration for a film from either era.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 1942 version features the original mono track and a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The mono sounds characteristic of the period: limited range marked by somewhat harsh highs are common, yet never distracting—a decent mono track. The Dolby 5.1 remix is a fine example of the capabilities of such remastering. The dialogue is firmly anchored to the center while the surrounds add atmospheric fill, enhancing the music and sound effects. Don't look for any fancy directional effects or extensive dynamic range, but this is a well executed remix that opens up the soundstage quite nicely.
The original 1925 silent version contains a Dolby 2.0 track of the musical score, with no surround information. The piano score is well performed by Neil Brand, "using melodies from the film's original compilation score by Karli D. Elinor." Range and clarity are good, enhancing an already stellar experience.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Korean with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Next, an Introduction by David Robinson (05m:29s), Chaplin's biographer, puts the film in context. He provides a bit of backstory, discussing the origins of the plot, the hurdles of production, and Chaplin's personal life.
Chaplin Today—The Gold Rush (26m:53s) explores the origins, production, and themes of the film. Included are interviews with Lita Grey, Georgia Hale (both circa 1980), and Mary Pickford. One of the most interesting parts of this short documentary involves African filmmaker Idrissa Quedraogo, who discusses how Chaplin has influenced his work. Children in his village are shown The Gold Rush for the first time, and their reactions perfectly capture Chaplin's timelessness and universality. Also, did you know Chaplin also played the human-sized chicken?
Archival material is plentiful. There is an extensive Photo Gallery, containing over 250 production stills and historical photographs. They are divided into seven sections: The Cabin (31 photos), Exteriors (80), At the Chaplin Studios (48), The Dance Hall (48), On the Ship (24), Sets (16), and The Real Gold Rush (15). These images can be scrolled through via chapter controls or allowed to play as a slide show. Occasionally, a brief video clip from the sound version crops up—an odd choice. A Poster Gallery contains 24 images, showcasing the original promotional art from around the world. Rounding out the archival material are four original theatrical trailers for The Gold Rush, in four different languages.
Overall, a nice balance of quality extras, but the inclusion of the silent version makes this a true winner.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsWarner and MK2 have assembled a standout DVD set of Chaplin's classic masterwork, boasting an impressive restoration of both versions and a collection of newly produced extra material. Grab your derby and cane and waddle to the nearest store. Highly recommended.
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