The Gold Rush is a 1925 American comedy film written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The film also stars Chaplin in his Little Tramp persona, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, and Malcolm Waite.
Chaplin drew inspiration from photos of the Klondike Gold Rush as well as from the story of the Donner Party who, when snowbound in the Sierra Nevada, were driven to cannibalism or eating leather from their shoes. Chaplin, who believed tragedies and comics were not far from each other, decided to combine these stories of deprivation and horror in comedy. He decided that his famous rogue figure should become a gold-digger who joins a brave optimist determined to face all the pitfalls associated with the search for gold, such as sickness, hunger, loneliness, or the possibility that he may at any time be attacked by a grizzly. In the film, scenes like Chaplin cooking and dreaming of his shoe, or how his starving friend Big Jim sees him as a chicken could be seen.
The Gold Rush received Academy Award nominations for the Best Music and Best Sound Recording upon its re-release in 1942. It is today one of Chaplin’s most celebrated works, and he himself declared several times that it was the film for which he most wanted to be remembered.
The following is the plot of the 1942 re-release:
Big Jim, a gold prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush, in Alaska, has just found an enormous gold deposit on his parcel of land when a blizzard strikes. The Lone Prospector gets lost in the same blizzard while also prospecting for gold. He stumbles into the cabin of Black Larsen, a wanted criminal. Larsen tries to throw the Prospector out when Jim also stumbles inside. Larsen tries to scare both out using his shotgun but is overpowered by Jim, and the three agree to an uneasy truce allowing them all to stay in the cabin.
When the storm is taking so long that food is running out, the three draw lots for who will have to go out into the blizzard to obtain something to eat. Larsen loses and leaves the cabin. While outside looking for food, he encounters Jim’s gold deposit and decides to ambush him there when Jim returns.
Meanwhile, the two remaining in the cabin get so desperate that they cook and eat one of the Prospector’s shoes. Later, Jim gets delirious, imagines the Prospector as a giant chicken and attacks him. At that moment, a bear enters the cabin and is killed, supplying them with food.
After the storm subsides, both leave the cabin, the Prospector continuing on to the next gold boom town while Jim returns to his gold deposit. There, he is knocked out by Larsen with a shovel. While fleeing with some of the mined gold, Larsen is killed by an avalanche. Jim recovers consciousness and wanders into the snow, having lost his memory from the blow. When he returns to the town, his memory has been partly restored and he remembers that he had found a large gold deposit, that the deposit was close to a certain cabin and that he had stayed in the cabin with the Prospector. But he knows neither the location of the deposit nor of the cabin. So, he goes looking for the Prospector, hoping that he can lead him to the cabin.
The Prospector arrives at the town and encounters Georgia, a dance hall girl. To irritate Jack, a ladies’ man who is making aggressive advances toward her and is pestering her for a dance, she instead decides to dance with “the most deplorable looking tramp in the dance hall”, the Prospector, who instantly falls in love with her. After encountering each other again, she accepts his invitation for a New Year’s Eve dinner, but does not take it seriously and soon forgets about it. On New Year’s Eve, while waiting for her to arrive to the dinner, the Prospector imagines entertaining her with a dance of bread rolls on forks. When she does not arrive until midnight, he walks alone through the streets, desperate. At that moment, she remembers his invitation and decides to visit him. Finding his home empty but seeing the meticulously prepared dinner and a present for her, she has a change of heart and prepares a note for him in which she asks to talk to him.
When the Prospector is handed the note, he goes searching for Georgia. But at the same moment, Jim finds him and drags him away to go search for the cabin, giving the Prospector only enough time to shout to Georgia that he soon will return to her as a millionaire. Jim and the Prospector find the cabin and stay for the night. Overnight, another blizzard blows the cabin half over a cliff right next to Jim’s gold deposit. The next morning the cabin is rocking dangerously over the cliff edge while the two try to escape. At last Jim manages to get out and pull the Prospector to safety right when the cabin falls off the cliff.
One year later both have become wealthy, but the Prospector never was able to find Georgia. They return to the contiguous United States on a ship on which, unknown to them, Georgia is also traveling. When the Prospector agrees to don his old clothes for a photograph, he falls down the stairs, encountering Georgia once more. After she mistakenly thinks he is a stowaway and tries to save him from the ship’s crew, the misunderstanding is cleared up and both are happily reunited.