Charlie Chaplin at SIFF – The Gold Rush

The Seattle International Film Festival theater is currently hosting a series of Charlie Chaplin classics in new 35mm prints. Amongst them is one of Chaplin’s most iconic of all films, The Gold Rush. And this screening is a great excuse to revisit this classic.

Often you find people don’t remember which movie this is just by the title. But even if you have never seen this whole movie before, you have seen it. This is the one with the famous bread roll dance that has been used in countless clips on awards shows and documentaries. While this sequence has been duplicated famously Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon or by Robert Downey Jr. in the biography Chaplin, the original has never been surpassed. This movie IS film history.

Chaplin plays his timeless Little Tramp here, down on his luck and looking to impress a local town beauty. Through a mishap and opportunity, he ends up prospecting for gold with the owner of a hard-to-find gold claim. Mishaps ensue, including Chaplin’s compatriot (played by the very game Mack Swain) imagining the Tramp as a giant chicken while hungrily chasing him around a tiny shack.

It is also interesting that we like to remember silent comedy films as wholesome and innocent; in reality they often were showing a far more devious and randy side of their characters. For example, the famous climax of the film with the tiny house precariously tipping back and forth off of the edge of an icy cliff works mainly because the Tramp is still hungover from his previous night’s drinking. He doesn’t notice where the house is and mistakes his unsteady footing for his own morning after. The comedy comes from how long it takes him to figure out what’s going on. Also, the very basis of the plot centers largely around manipulation over who owns the gold. Characters from the silent era could be as selfish, smart, and fully formed as those throughout film’s history. These were intelligent movies!

This comedy features many of what are now classic bits. The Tramp, beyond hungry, boils and eats his own shoe. This scene is terrific for his specificity, as he eats the shoelaces like pasta and individually strips each nail from the shoe with his teeth. The aforementioned dancing rolls work so well because of how perfectly dainty the little dance moves are, followed by a charming set of bows, looking as if his head were mounted atop these small feet. Comedy like this works because of the details.

The Gold Rush was Chaplin at the height of his film making prowess and popularity. If you are in the Seattle area, you owe it to yourself to seek out what should be a fun screening.

The Gold Rush will be playing at the SIFF Cinema on Saturday, April 16th, 2011 at 2pm as part of its weeklong Chaplin Series.


I'm a family man who got his Drama degree back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and now works at a desk. I love movies of all kinds, and I am still working my way through the list of 1001 movies you must see before you die.

Follow him on Twitter or email him.

View all posts by this author