In analyzing an older film for signs of the classical Hollywood narrative, I chose to view Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. I’ve always wanted to watch a Chaplin film, especially after seeing the movie Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr. I wasn’t disappointed.
This film contains many strong elements of the classical Hollywood narrative. First, The Lone Prospector, portrayed by Chaplin, is the main character in the film. The movie focuses on this one character throughout, although Jim McKay and Georgia also have prominent roles in the story.
These main characters have primary goals that drive the story: The Lone Prospector’s initial goal is to find gold, but his focus later shifts into winning Georgia’s love. Jim McKay’s primary goal is to find gold so that he can become a multimillionaire. Georgia’s goal is to find a good man, but she initially rejects The Lone Prospector in favor of Jack: The Ladies Man.
Another element of the classical Hollywood narrative is the film’s time setting, which is in the present tense. The film never reverts back to past events or memories, and The Lone Prospector has a dream in only one scene. In addition, the main characters experience numerous obstacles that present new conflicts as the story progresses, forcing them to change their immediate goals. The Lone Prospector experiences snow storms, hunger, financial failure, and romantic rejection. Jim McKay loses him memory, which presents an obstacle to finding his gold stash, whereas Georgia’s conflict revolves around her romantic troubles.
Although this is a silent film, the acting is driven by music that matches the tempo and emotion of the scene. The music will speed up during chases, such as when Jim McKay wants to eat The Lone Prospector after thinking he’s a chicken. Then the music will slow down to a serious tempo to reflect the character’s sad emotion. This is seen when The Lone Prospector is saddened after being stood-up for the New Year’s Eve dinner with Georgia. This music creates an interesting effect that clearly communicates the actor’s emotions without using words. The gestures and facial expressions of the actors are also dramatized, which gives the viewers a sense of their emotions.
Finally, the film gives the viewers complete closure at the end, with The Lone Prospector and Jim McKay becoming multimillionaires. The Lone Prospector also gets the girl of his dreams. It was the classic Hollywood happy ending.
One of the weakest elements of the classical Hollywood narrative in this film was that the main character didn’t really change his attitude or values. The Lone Prospector seemed to retain the same nerdy, accident-prone persona throughout the story, even after becoming a multimillionaire.
Is Classical Hollywood Cinema Dead?
I think most films today focus way too much on action and CGI effects, and not nearly enough on story and character development. This film had no words and no big CGI effects, yet it told a good story and made me laugh out loud several times. I though the funniest scene was when the two men were fighting over the gun in the cabin, and no matter where Chaplin moved, the gun still pointed at him.