Reviews — April 18
“The Gold Rush” is among half a dozen or so essential Charlie Chaplin films, in which he plays his iconic “Little Tramp” character in a story that is filled with iconic moments, many of which might be familiar to those who haven’t even seen it: the boot for supper; the mad scramble to get away from two men who are fighting over a rifle that’s invariably pointed at him no matter where he hides. And, of course, those dancing bread rolls, an exquisite piece of movie magic.
Chaplin is a fascinating figure. He was unapologetic about his goal of making loads of money from films, yet he sympathized with working people — as evidenced by his most famous character, a vagrant whose too-big clothes seemed to be patched together from multiple outfits. The Little Tramp was a character, not a caricature; Chaplin played him as a soulful outsider, always striving to get a leg up.
That, of course, is the entire point of “The Gold Rush.” The Little Tramp tries to get rich (and stay alive, and get the girl) in the Klondike. It’s a classic film brimming with wonderful scenes, some exciting, some very funny, and some genuinely moving. It’s possibly his most complete film, in terms of having something for everyone. And it’s one everyone ought to see at least once. I recommend the 1925 silent classic; although Chaplin was a perfectionist, his decision to “reboot” the film with sound 20 years later was unnecessary.
“The Gold Rush” (1925) Written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin (who also wrote music for the film and edited it!) With Mack Swain, Tom Murray and Georgia Hale. 95 minutes. Most DVDs include the 1942 reissue, but I implore you: Watch the silent version. Or at least, watch it first.
Life is hard above the 60th parallel. But there are those who love it, endure it, or find that it works for them.
Harry Boyd is one of those. He — like Elisabeth Hay, who wrote “Late Nights on Air” — started his radio career more than two decades ago in Yellowknife, a small town on the edge of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northern Territories. After a series of moves up the career ladder, then an abrupt fall down it, he’s back in Yellowknife serving as temporary general manager of the local Canadian Broadcasting Station.
His congenial, melodious voice attracts Gwen Symon, a 24-year-old looking for her place in life. She’s driven 3,000 miles on her own — but accompanied by Harry’s voice on the radio — to get to Yellowknife.
Gwen humbly applies to become a script assistant. But Harry sees something in her, or perhaps hears something, and puts her on the air. She’s terrible at first, then she relaxes into her job, discovering it’s a way for a shy person to communicate intimately with people she’s never met.
While Gwen admires and tries to emulate Harry, he is smitten by another voice at the radio station, Dido, who came to Canada from the Netherlands. She’s beautiful, mysterious and a natural broadcaster; irresistible to Harry, in other words.
Hay carefully constructs these three characters and others who cling to the radio station like a lifeline through Yellowknife’s long hard winters and brief, but spectacular summers. Her writing is so subtle, at times, the reader doesn’t quite realize how well he or she knows them.
Hay’s writing is just as effective as she describes the real North — the inhabitable stretch between Great Slave Lake and the Arctic.
She gives Gwen, Harry and the others the gift of an excursion into that inhospitable, yet achingly beautiful land. It’s a difficult trip, filled with painful blisters, bugs and tear-inducing obstacles — such as when they discover many of the lakes are still iced over — but full of wonder, as well — herds of migrating caribou and other fauna; tiny flowers that don’t have enough sun or warmth to grow large, which makes them seem all the more beautiful.
It’s a life-changing trip, one that readers, like the characters, will always remember.
“Late Nights on Air,” by Elizabeth Hay, 2007, published by Counterpoint.