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Chaplin's Gold Rush features piano accompaniment


LSC Friday Classics.

Written and directed by Charles Chaplin.

Starring Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale, and Mack Swain.

10-250, 7:30 p.m.

By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

If you saw the modern biopic in which Robert Downey, Jr. re-created Charlie Chaplin, you probably remember the graceful little dance he did using two bread rolls and forks. You can see the original tonight at the LSC Classics screening of Chaplin's The Gold Rush, and have the extra special treat of listening to Professor of Music and Theater Arts Marty Marks' piano accompaniment.

Chaplin dreamed up this story, his favorite among all his works, after reading a book about the infamous Donner party tragedy. The Donner party was travelling to California by wagon train in the last century and got caught by an early blizzard in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Soon out of food, their desperation led them to consume clothing, including leather boots, and eventually the bodies of their friends who had frozen to death.

That such a sublime comedy could be inspired by such a gruesome tragedy is amazing, though not unique. Chaplin even chose to do his exterior shooting in Truckee, Nevada, close to site of the Donner catastrophe. The first scene of the film, with several hundred prospectors slogging up a mountain towards the gold fields, and in which the Little Tramp is followed by a bear, is the most memorable of these location shots.

Many elements of what would come to be considered the quintessential Chaplin are present in The Gold Rush. The Little Tramp, who represents all of struggling humankind, maintains a graceful demeanor as he faces trial after trial, and only shows the hurt in his eyes when he is beset by surly miners or heartless dance hall workers. Besides the dancing rolls routine, this little gem of a film contains the famous Thanksgiving feast, for which Charlie cooks one of his boots. (The prop boots were made of licorice, the laxative qualities of which were only discovered by Charlie and his co-star, Mac Swain, after they had consumed the boot.)

Another great scene takes place as the cabin in which Chaplin and Swain are sleeping moves during a blizzard to the edge of an abyss, and teeters dangerously back and forth as the two wake up. (They think the unusual movement is only the result of serious hangovers.) Watch also for the snow-shoveling sequence.

Chaplin was at the height of his powers when he made The Gold Rush. In fact, Chaplin formed United Artists - a successful partnership with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith - to guarantee their independence from the studios. The first UA film in which Chaplin took a starring role, The Gold Rush is a real classic.