Unless there is one I have missed, the AFI list contains three Charlie Chaplin silent comedies, and there’s something about this guy I am not sure I completely get: why did his career pretty much end in the 40s? I suppose part of it may be he wanted it to, but the fact he only really has one actual “talkie” comedy that I know about (The Great Dictator), I have to wonder why he didn’t go forward.
I say this largely because the version of this movie I saw was not the 1925 original issuing but a 1942 re-release, and that was and wasn’t a silent movie. Sure, the characters are still silent, but Chaplin wrote narration for the movie, providing dialogue for the different characters to replace the dialogue cards that silent movies usually use, and then he read the lines himself. And…he has a nice voice. Sure, he maybe talks a little too much, but his voice is firm and strong. He shows the proper emotion for when he speaks for the characters on the screen. We know from Modern Times that he can also sing. He’s been a master of mime and physical comedy for all of these movies. So, why did he disappear? Did the sound era not work out for him? Were whatever he did later just not sell tickets? Or did he just retire? I don’t know, and I haven’t looked into it. Plus, I probably won’t anytime soon.
So, let’s look at this movie and see what happens when the Little Tramp, wearing his standard clothes, heads out to the arctic cold of Alaska as part of a Gold Rush to see if he can find some riches. He does in the end, but he does so by accident, but just about everything the Tramp does, he does by accident. He’s accident prone, but largely well-meaning. The worst he does is try to con a man Chaplin-the-narrator describes as a good man out of some breakfast, and he still ends up befriending the fellow enough to house-sit for him when his job takes him away for a period.
Heck, he does one of his most famous bits with the dancing rolls here.
And that little dance bit comes after another famous bit when the Tramp and another friend, Big Jim, are forced to eat one of the Tramp’s shoes while starving.
But as much as I enjoyed this movie, and as much as Chaplin’s narration made for an interesting novelty, I am not sure how much I can say about this movie that I haven’t seen before about other Chaplin movies. The Tramp goes around, does some silly things, falls in love, and even gets the girl in the end. This time the girl is Georgia (the characters actually have names this time), and she’s a dance hall girl looking for a nice guy, the likes of which she just hasn’t found up to this point. If anything, Chaplin keeps the girl off-screen until about halfway through the movie. Much of the opening has the Tramp–referred to by the narrator as “that little fellow,” an apt description seeing as how he seems to be shorter than all of his male co-stars–stuck in a cabin with a bad man named Black Larsen and a good man who found a hell of a claim named Big Jim. Larsen dies in an avalanche after hitting Big Jim over the head with a shovel and killing two law men. Big Jim doesn’t remember where his gold is. By the time the Tramp gets to Georgia, he’s already had a lot of smaller adventures.
But that seems to be the pattern for all of Chaplin’s silent comedies.
But then there’s the house about to fall off a cliff, a bit of well-done special effects for the silent era.
As much as the Tramp has problems, often caused by dumb luck, he also lucks out. He wins in the end, even if he’s mostly losing. He’ll wear his distinctive rags, shuffle along with his distinctive walk, and win his distinctive way into his audience’s hearts.
Now why couldn’t Chaplin keep his success going?
NEXT UP: We’re looking at a Gothic Romance with the 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights.