Sometimes, even a great filmmaker may misunderstand the aspects of their own work as originally released that made them truly special. The latest innovations in technology in cinema can often be a motivating factor in changing things up far after the fact. George Lucas is the poster child of this symptom but he is by no means the only one. Charlie Chaplin has created some of the greatest comedies of early cinema. The Little Tramp is both iconic and one of the great cinematic characters of all time. But when Chaplin decided to revisit one of his great silent era triumphs, The Gold Rush, for a 1942 re-release, the filmmaker decided to make changes to the film to fit with the latest advent in sound. In content and style, it’s virtually the same. However, Chaplin adds sound effects and, most egregiously of all, narrates the film himself dubbing dialogue where appropriate.
Unfortunately, this robs the film of many of its well earned moments and underlines things that did not need underlining. The Gold Rush is still a great film. Its wonderful comic moments remain some of the greatest in Chaplin’s career. From his dancing routine with the rolls at dinner to the sliding shack hanging on the precipice of a cliff, the film remains one of his great triumphs. Judging from the exuberant and heartfelt narration, this film would seem to hold a place in Chaplin’s heart as well. But the changes and additions he makes do not make the film stronger. They only serve to make them slightly weaker.
Whereas brief title cards would indicate dialogue where one would need them to follow the plot, Chaplin bellows in filling the beautiful orchestral score as if reading the audience a bedtime story. The romance between Chaplin’s Little Tramp and love interest Georgia Hale is another sweet love story but those silent moments and performances are robbed of their subtlety and small touches by Chaplin chiming in with description of the characters feelings and hopes and dialogue. It feels misguided, though Chaplin’s heart is in the right place. And as difficult as I found those moments, the film still stands as a great achievement in cinematic comedy. One of many that Chaplin has contributed in his wonderful career, it is still a wonderful comedy with some of the greatest jokes and gags ever committed to film. Unfortunately, modern audiences must navigate a wildly unnecessary voice over to get there.