Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Friday, June 30, 2006




Chaplin's Gold Rush Revival Of 1942

There were Chaplin films that generated controversy when they were new. Monsieur Verdoux was pilloried by critics and ignored by the public in 1947, only to be embraced by audiences when revived briefly in 1964. All the Chaplin features would be re-issued successfully in the wake of his Academy Award presentation in 1972, and they’ve remained in popular circulation since. The one most likely to stir debate today is The Gold Rush, and that’s been a fairly recent phenomenon. It's the sole Chaplin feature that exists in two distinctly different versions (several of his silents were amended for re-issues, such as The Kid and The Circus, but only the recut versions are generally available now). The Gold Rush was released in 1925 to a triumphant boxoffice ($2.2 million in domestic rentals toward a worldwide $4.380), and was regarded as Chaplin’s masterpiece, an opinion with which he concurred. After the triumph of The Great Dictator ($5.0 million worldwide), the comedian mounted his first revival of a silent Chaplin film since the beginning of the talkie era. Others had circulated some of the short comedies with new soundtracks, but this would be a major feature re-issue under Chaplin’s own imprinteur, and since he owned the negative outright, he was free to make whatever adjustments to The Gold Rush he saw fit …



In a 1942 world of brash comedy and rat-a-tat verbal sparring (thanks as much to radio as movies), Charlie Chaplin had to be apprehensive over the welcome, or lack of one, he might receive for a seventeen-year old silent movie. There were but a few of these back in circulation over the last ten years. Three had been Rudolph Valentino
starrers (The Sheik, Son Of The Sheik, and The Eagle) and one had brought back William S. Hart for a final prologue bow before the camera (Tumbleweeds). Most were handled by independent distributors as novelty shows --- curios for the amusement of women who’d once swooned over Rudy and kids who wondered what all the excitement had been about. Otherwise, silent films were buried deep, and none of the majors had any interest in them beyond scattered art house showings and an occasional print donated to the Museum Of Modern Art. Perhaps it was this uncertainty that inspired Chaplin to modernize The Gold Rush thusly --- Told To The Strains Of Music That Will Tug At Your Heart, Told Through Words That Will Convulse You With Laughter. Charlie’s own pocketbook was convulsed to the tune of $154,000 for the modernization, which included a new score composed by him, and spoken narration he elected to deliver in his own voice. United Artists would distribute on 60-40 terms for all exhibitors, "just like any other UA picture." The preview at Westwood’s Village Theatre was rapturous --- its close proximity to UCLA would bring an appreciative college-age audience. Chaplin himself appeared for the opening, along with an array of major industry names (here he is greeting Mickey Rooney) --- even Mary Pickford showed up with husband Buddy Rogers to launch the new Gold Rush. She, like Chaplin, still maintained an ownership interest in United Artists.



Critical reaction was overwhelmingly positive. James Agee placed it among the year's best films. No one seems to have kicked about that narration or the removal of intertitles. They probably felt, like Chaplin, that a little minor surgery would be needed to make this old film palatable for modern viewers. The idea of narration was not new. Paramount had released some short subjects made up of silent highlights which included an explanatory track, and Metro dished up old footage now and again for their comedic one-reelers. For better or worse, such were templates Chaplin had to go by, and his attempts to augment sight gags with verbal humor in The Gold Rush may well have been inspired by the likes of Pete Smith (perish any thought of that --- I find those things almost unbearable to watch). We may deplore Chaplin’s judgment today, but our hindsight pales before Charlie’s foresight, as his trip down memory lane took a lot of movie-goers with it (New York’s Globe Theatre played all-night on Saturdays to accommodate crowds). We can appreciate The Gold Rush today, not as a product of the silent era, but as a sampling of one great silent comedian trying to adapt his work to fulfill the expectations of a forties audience, and, as it turned out, succeeding very nicely. UA demonstrated its confidence with an all-out campaign. No silent movie revival had gotten this kind of push before. Note the powerhouse panel of 1942 comics paying laughing tribute to the master for a trade ad (and how about that Abbott and Costello
telegram endorsement!). The Gold Rush re-issue ended up with $614,000 worldwide, an exceptional number for any oldie, let alone one without dialogue.





So just what’s it like to watch (and hear) Charlie Chaplin in the 1942 Gold Rush today? Nine out of ten fans would give its narrator the hook. Perhaps C.C. anticipated all those DVD audio commentaries we’d someday be assaulted by, and decided to get in his licks sixty-five years early. If you like sitting beside someone at the movies who will explain what you’re watching, while you’re watching it, then this is the Gold Rush for you. Otherwise, I’d recommend the original 1925 silent version, recently reconstructed by Kevin Brownlow and available on a Warners double-disc (with the 1942 edition). Your preference will probably depend on which you saw first. For me, it was an 8mm print of the original I got back in 1969, mounted on nine little reels, and dead mute other than classical recordings I played along with it. I am, therefore, an adherent of the 1925 version. On the other hand, there are Chaplin fans who will go to the mat for his re-issue, having seen it at an impressionable age and falling in love with it thus. It’s fortunate we can choose. The ideal would be to somehow marry the picture quality from 1942 --- with silent titles from 1925 --- to the Chaplin music from 1942, but without the Chaplin voice of 1942, and then stand back and shout, It’s Alive … Alive! Until that happy (but unlikely) day, we must make our election based on what’s available, and thankfully, both versions are.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Greg G. said...

I'm going by memory here but didn't he also change the plot shightly? In the original, the girl sends the obnoxious guy the letter, which is sent to Charlie as a joke and he thinks came from the girl. In the 1942 version, he makes it actually come from her which is totally unbelieveable. After all, he's a homeless tramp. Also, in the original version, she only agrees to marry him after she finds out he's rich. Those changes, possibly to appeal more to 1940s sensibilities is to me far worse then the terrible narration.

5:51 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

"Poopee Snoopee Novelty Company"? This was the best Chaplin could find?

12:10 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

I think the original version demonstrates that Georgia's fallen, or is falling, in love with Charlie - it's a pretty passionnate kiss that closes the film. In the '42 version, Chaplin removed the kissing scene, and merely whispers something to the photographer that implies they'll soon marry. The fade out comes as the two walk off hand-in-hand.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently hired Gold Rush and watched it. I was disapointed that it was the 1942 version that I got I would have rather seen the 1925 version. Personally I don't need someone to tell me the story, but others would and did.

I recently read a small article from an early 40's newspaper (I can't remember the details) but it was talking about silent movies and was bascially saying that they were only good for the dustheap and look how advanced they were in the early 40's.

Assuming that perhaps Chaplin thought that he didn't want his movies/art/masterpieces to be seen as only good enough for the dustheap he did what he did to ensure that The Gold Rush survived and was seen by a new audience and let us not forget that Chaplin was a businessman too.

Whichever way The Gold Rush is a masterpiece.

11:54 PM  
Blogger Dan Navarro said...

The 1925 version of The Gold Rush is, simply, the best movie ever made.
But the 1942 re-issue is vulgar and lifeless, and it isn't only Chaplin's intrusive narration that makes it so.

In the original version, Georgia sends a handwritten note to the ladies' man Jack. He reads it, laughs, and then -- seeking to humiliate Georgia -- he has a waiter deliver it to the Little Prospector. Cruel? You bet. But of such conflict comes good theater.

The 1942 "sound" version has Georgia writing the note directly to Chaplin, thus robbing the scene of its power.

And I will go to the mat to defend the original's ending, which includes the climactic kiss between Charlie and Georgia. In 1942, Chaplin chopped off that scene. Why? Maybe the old man had grown bitter over his divorces and simply wanted to chuck the whole "happy ending" thing.

But the 1925 original is, definitely, the better film.

7:12 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014