Cast: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Berman, Malcolm Waite, Georgia Hale
SUMMARY: In the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush, a Lone Prospector (Charles Chaplin) heads into the mountains to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, before he can start prospecting a huge storm arrives. The Prospector finds refuge in an old shack, where one man is already staying. Unbeknownst to the Prospector, this man is Black Larsen (Tom Murray), a wanted criminal who is hiding out. The two are quickly joined by Big Jim (Mack Swain), another prospector looking for shelter. Big Jim already has a claim, and recently found a large gold deposit. Larsen tries to throw the other two out of the cabin, but they join forces against him; all three end up staying in the cabin. The storm drags on for several days, and the men begin to run out of food. They decide to draw lots and send the loser out into the storm to find food. Larsen is the one chosen to go, and sets off into the storm alone. Before he can find food, he finds Big Jim’s claim and a huge gold nugget. Rather than going back to the cabin, he decides to stay on the claim and take the gold for himself. Back at the cabin, the Prospector and Big Jim have gotten so desperate that they cook and eat one of the Prospector’s shoes. Even so, Big Jim starts to hallucinate: he repeatedly imagines that the Prospector is a giant chicken and tries to chase him down. Fortunately for the Prospector (and Big Jim), a bear wanders into the cabin, and he manages to shoot it for food. When the storm eventually ends, the Prospector moves on and Big Jim returns to his claim. He finds Larsen there, waiting to kill him and steal the claim. Larsen knocks Big Jim out with a shovel, but is killed in an avalanche; Big Jim survives but suffers from memory loss. He begins wandering aimlessly, eventually remembering that his claim was near a certain cabin.
Meanwhile, the unsuccessful Prospector has come into town. On his first night he goes to the local dance hall and falls in love with one of the girls, Georgia (Georgia Hale). Georgia, however, is only using the Prospector to get away from her irritating ex Jack. Some time later, Georgia and her friends wander into the cabin where the Prospector is saying, and he invites them to come back on New Year’s Eve. Georgia does not realize that the Prospector is in love with her (nor does she return the feeling), and though she agrees to come to the dinner she forgets. By the time she does remember, the Prospector has given up and is wandering through town alone. He finally sees Georgia again in the dance hall, but before he can talk to her Big Jim appears. Seeing the Prospector trips Big Jims memory, and he realizes that the Prospector knows the location of the mysterious cabin. He immediately drags the Prospector off to search, swearing to share the gold from his claim. The Prospector does manage to lead Big Jim back to the cabin, and the two spend the night there. However, another storm blows through during the night and dislodges the entire cabin, blowing it onto the edge of a cliff. Big Jim and the Prospector narrowly escape alive, only to find that they have been blown right onto Jim’s claim. A year later, both are multi-millionaires and are headed back to the lower States. After that night at the dance hall, the Prospector never saw Georgia again. By coincidence, she is traveling on the same ship, but is in steerage, rather than first class. The Prospector is asked by a photographer to put on his old mining clothes and pose, during which time he falls over the railing and almost into Georgia’s lap. She recognizes him, but thinks he is a stowaway the crew is looking for; when they arrive, she volunteers to pay for his passage. She is then informed that the Prospector is now a multi-millionaire, and the two are finally able to be together.
MY TAKE: This film is famous for a couple of sequences: the shoe-eating, the roll-dancing, and to a lesser extent, the cabin-on-a-cliff. Charlie Chaplin was apparently inspired to make this movie after seeing pictures of the Gold Rush and reading about the Donner Party, who famously resorted to eating each other after they were stranded on the Oregon Trail. You can directly see this inspiration in the shoe-eating scene, where the Prospector cooks and eats his shoe as if he were eating a turkey. The cliff scene actually involved a very intricate model for the outside shots, which I kinda figured — in the 1920s, I couldn’t imagine any other way to create that kind of image. This was one of Chaplin’s personal favorites of the films he made, but I wasn’t thrilled by it. I can’t really explain why that is, either. There are some amusing moments — I particularly liked when the Prospector tried to tie up his sagging pants with a bit of string while dancing with Georgia, only to find that the string was tied to a dog — but I felt like it dragged somewhat. I think it was also a little repetitive, as it follows a very familiar Chaplin formula. It’s kind of like watching Buster Keaton movies: basically the same things happen in each one. It was a wildly successful formula for both men, but I think that at the time, novelty was probably a big reason for Chaplin’s success. In today’s world, where there are so many good movies, his antics are less hysterical because we’ve seen them before. The man was undoubtedly a genius, though, as he nearly single-handedly produced this movies and several others in his career: he wrote it, directed it, produced it, edited it, and starred in it. When it was re-released in 1942, he helped write the music for it, which earned Oscar nominations for Best Music and Best Sound Recording. I don’t think that the public at the time liked it when he strayed from his successful formula, but I found myself feeling like I’d already seen this film.