Blog Directory CineVerse: April 2020

Why butlers get the blues

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Remains of the Day, a Merchant Ivory production that earned a bevy of critical love in 1993 and eight Academy Award nominations, stands as one of the best character studies of a servant class figure in all of filmdom. One colossal reason is the stunning performance by Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Stevens, a romantically repressed butler who's too good at his job for his own good. Our CineVerse discussion on this film yesterday (click here to listen to a recording of it) focused on the following talking points:

What strikes you as memorable, unexpected, or surprising about The Remains of the Day?

  • There’s a melancholy and sense of loss and regret that permeates every frame of this film. Stevens comes across as a tragic character and pathetic figure who loses out on the opportunity for romantic and personal growth.
  • It feels like and was marketed to viewers as a love story. Yet we never see the potential couple partake in physical intimacy of any kind or even call each other by their first names. The romantic longing is palpable to the viewer, but ultimately no love is expressed. The ending is awash in utter frustration, as we see Miss Kenton depart on the bus with tears in her eyes.
  • The time shifts are sudden but subtle, with most of the film presented in flashback framing; as with “The Irishman” from last year, we know it’s present day for Stevens when we see him driving or away from the estate.
  • This could be Anthony Hopkins’ finest turn as an actor, which was rewarded when he received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.
  • Hopkins, and the film, forces you to pay attention to the slightest cues and clues, as we aren’t privy to his private thoughts. Is it possible he’s na├»ve about matters of the heart and politics? Or is he aware of what’s going on but refusing to commit himself?

Themes on display in this picture

  • The consequences of emotional tunnel vision. Stevens is so focused on his job and professionalism that he cannot see opportunities for growth around him, including the prospect of love, the chance to offer opinions and demonstrate individuality, and the ability to make a personal or political statement of conscience.
  • The indignity of blind obedience to dignity. Stevens explains that dignity is the key component to a successful butler. But his adherence to this principle prevents him from expressing himself emotionally and engaging as a well-rounded human being.
  • The dangers, per Roger Ebert of “a society where tradition is valued, even at the cost of repressing normal human feelings.”
  • The sins of the father are visited upon the son. We see how Stevens carries on the tradition of pride, perfectionism, and professionalism practiced by his father; interestingly, we observe his father falter and fail, which is the fate Stevens is doomed to repeat, assumingly never to leave his servants class status until he likely dies or is physically incapable. Like his father who lost his grip on the tray and trips on the stone, suggesting a lack of balance in his life, Stevens—by the end of the story—is losing his ability to perform his job to the high level he expects. For proof, consider that it is Lewis who is quick enough to capture and free the pigeon from their interiors; this would have been a duty that a skilled butler like Stevens would have probably handled easily as a younger man.
  • Ironic deficiencies. Interestingly, Lord Darlington and his peers pass themselves off as professional diplomats and politicians when, in fact, they are amateurs. They are criticized by Congressman Lewis as “gentleman amateurs” who are trying to run international affairs that should be run by the professionals. Likewise, Steven presents himself as a professional in his work but proves to be an amateur when it comes to love and acting like a fully formed human being.
  • Loss and tragedy. Every major character suffers casualties: Stevens loses the would-be love of his life and his father; Miss Kenton loses Stevens and her husband; Darlington loses his reputation; and his godson Reginald loses his life. The only winner appears to be Lewis, who wins the argument about Darlington and his appeasers being amateurs and claims Darlington’s estate in the end.
  • No one is doomed to a predetermined destiny and societal rank. Stevens believes it’s his duty to live the role of a professional butler, and he doesn’t dare question this status or his position in the pecking order, refusing to offer opinions when asked or jeopardize his station in life. But we see how stifling, stale, and unfulfilling this kind of life and the acquiescence it demands can be. This is a cautionary tale about the importance of living life to the fullest and bucking traditions and sociocultural expectations.

Other films that spring to mind after viewing “The Remains of the Day”

  • Movies featuring butlers or servants as the main character, including My Man Godfrey, The Servant, Being There, and The Butler
  • Other period dramas of the last 30 years, including Howards End, The Piano, The Age of Innocence, Gosford Park, Downton Abbey, and Brideshead Revisited

Other movies from the team of Merchant and Ivory

  • Howards End
  • A Room With a View
  • Maurice
  • The Bostonians
  • The Europeans
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bridge


A few of our favorite things about "The Sound of Music"

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Adjusted for inflation, "The Sound of Music" remains the third highest-grossing film of all time, which speaks to its endless popularity and enduring appeal. In celebration of its 55th anniversary this month, here are multiple reasons why it continues to capture our hearts.

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It still matters, above all, because it remains arguably the greatest songbook for a major musical. 
    • Almost all of the dozen or so songs featured in the film are all-time classics, and several are standards covered by artists across many genres, including “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” “Maria,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and the title track. 
    • This music is woven so firmly into the public consciousness and pop culture that most film watchers know the lyrics by heart, as evidenced by the popularity of sing-a-long theatrical reissues and costumed events over the years and the fact that the soundtrack album has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. 
    • With most movie musicals, you might like half of the songs or a couple of standout numbers. Here, it can be argued that at least eight of the 11 main songs are instant classics. 
    • Interestingly, as with “The Wizard of Oz,” the vast majority of songs appear in the first half of the movie, in this case nine of the 11 main songs, not including reprises.
  • It matters, as well, because of the synergy of the great talents behind the production, from the timeless tunes of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein to the fantastic screenplay adaptation by Hollywood legend Ernest Lehmann to the scintillating singing and performance of Julia Andrews—here in her absolute prime—to the steady direction of Robert Wise, a filmmaker already known by the time for helming a handful of classics and who won the Oscar for best director here.
  • It has stood the test of time because, despite complaints by some of being schmaltzy or saccharine, it’s eternally crowd-pleasing and immensely joyful, it’s fairly accurate as a true story about how a woman brought life and love into a family, and it remains one of the best pictures about a family and for kin to enjoy together. 
    • In fact, this movie is the last of its kind in a way: It marks the end of the family-friendly Hollywood musical—at least a musical that has remained widely beloved by movie fans. Yes, in the immediate years after “The Sound of Music” you had “Doctor Doolittle,” “Oliver!,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and a few other all-ages-appropriate musicals, but none of these are as rewatched and treasured today as “The Sound of Music.”
  • The third act, in which the Nazi threat to the family grows, adds tension and historical reality to the film. This helps neutralize any frothy or sappy elements, underscores the family’s suddenly precarious status, and adds gravitas to the argument that they are stronger as a cohesive unit.
  • It has also aged very well because the studio lavished a large budget and generous TLC on the production. 
    • For example, it makes a difference that many exterior shots were, fittingly, filmed on location in Austria, lending the movie a cultural authenticity and architectural verisimilitude that couldn’t have been duplicated had the entire film been shot in Hollywood. The movie today continues to look rich and chromatically resonant, thanks to it being filmed in glorious 70 mm Todd-AO widescreen and produced with DeLuxe Color processing.
  • Despite being a family-friendly live-action musical—a genre that doesn’t appeal to as many people today as it did decades ago—the film doesn’t look or feel dated.
    • Part of the reason is that the songs remain so universally beloved and evergreen.
    • Another reason is that it’s a period story, set in late 1930s Austria, not mid-1960s America, when it came out.
    • Perhaps you can’t say the same thing about “West Side Story,” a film released just a few years earlier that depicts early 1960s street gangs that haven’t aged too favorably.
  • Above all, “The Sound of Music” matters because it was and remains immensely popular.
    • The film remained in theatrical circulation between 1965 and 1969—an amazing four-and-a-half years.
    • Consider that this was the first American movie to be completely dubbed, both music and dialogue, in a foreign language.
    • The picture was also a big hit in virtually every country where it ran, except Germany and Austria.
    • It continues to be one of the most performed musicals in the world, too.

How was the Sound of Music influential or set trends in any way?

  • This was the first studio musical to depict the dark threat of Nazism and this time of uncertainty in Europe just before World War II.
  • Without this movie, you probably don’t have modern live-action musicals like “Moulin Rouge,” “Mama Mia!,” and “The Greatest Showman.”
    • According to Pamela Hutchinson, writer for The Guardian, “perhaps the recent success of ‘The Greatest Showman,’ as well as other fan favourites such as ‘Mamma Mia!’...tell us critics and audiences want very different things from a musical. Where reviewers found ‘The Sound of Music’ slow, sugary and mendacious, audiences discovered a heartwarming story about childhood, and a series of catchy, upbeat songs.”
  • “The Sound of Music” continues to inspire artists and fans alike.
    • Ariana Grande’s song “7 Rings” from last year was inspired by “My Favorite Things.”
    • Lady Gaga sang four numbers from the film during the 2015 Oscars telecast.
    • It enjoyed a Broadway revival in 1998, it was staged as a live TV production on NBC in 2013 and remade again for the small screen 2 years later.
    • “Sound of Music” singalongs, which sometimes include costume-wearing attendees, play today in many cities.

Why did most critics pan this film when it was originally released in 1965, and how and why did “The Sound of Music’s” reputation as a film classic worthy of praise grow over the ensuing decades?

  • Critics of the day described the movie as “icky sticky,” “cosy-cum-corny” and "the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat", with audiences having been "turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs,” per a scathing notice by Pauline Kael.
  • Yet the film quickly went on to surpass “Gone With the Wind” as the all-time box-office king.
  • It has garnered an impressive current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 83%. And the American Film Institute has placed it high amongst several lists, slotting it as the 40th best American movie of all time in its 2007 Top 100 list, ranking it #4 on its list of the 100 greatest musicals, and naming three of its songs among the 100 best songs in American cinema.
  • This is kind of a rare example of a major blockbuster and Best Picture Academy Award winner that wasn’t very well received by movie reviewers when it opened but that today is regarded by most critics as an indisputable classic.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “The Sound of Music?”

  • The power of music and its ability to serve as a healing, unifying, and life-affirming force. Think about how Maria earns the trust and love of the children by singing to them and teaching them music; likewise, the Captain can relate to his children again through the magic of music.
  • Follow where your heart leads. Maria learns that her heart isn’t truly set on being a nun; instead, she has fallen in love with the captain, suffers a crisis of faith and doubt, but is advised by Mother Abbess to listen to her heart, “live the life you were born to live,” and marry the captain. Likewise, the captain realizes that he’s in love with Maria and decides to end his relationship with the baroness. Also, the captain cannot fathom working for the Third Reich; despite the risks, he decides to escape the country with his family.
  • Be true to yourself without conforming to sociocultural expectations. Consider how Maria is a free-spirited and outspoken dreamer, which makes her a bad nun-in-training and an undesirable governess to the captain, at least at first. But we see how her energetic, ebullient, permissive, and generous personality is what endears her to the children. If she was a submissive employee, the captain likely wouldn’t have fallen in love with her, either.
  • The key to a successful family and parenthood is spending quality time together, especially time having fun and being creative and expressive. The Von Trapps are at their best when they are singing and performing collectively, and, as their clever escape from the Nazis demonstrates, they survive and thrive as a collective unit when they work together.
  • There’s a kind of Cinderella fairy tale at work here, too, where we have a misfit princess-in-the-rough who falls for the handsome royal prince and wins his heart in the end.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • The fantastic scenery and cinematography have helped this movie age so gracefully.
  • Also, the incredible performance by Julie Andrews stands as a testament to the power of perfect casting.
  • A bit problematic is the fact that, with its large cast, most of the children aren’t well developed and lack interesting personalities.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • “The Sound of Music’s” greatest gift continues to be its songbook. Not only are these numbers instantly recognizable, hummable, and infectious, but they work so well to advance the story, characters, and relationships. Thanks often to genius lyrics, the songs eliminate the need for exposition, often propelling the narrative forward more efficiently than dialogue and action could. Case in point: the action of “Do-Re-Mi” takes place over several days, but is told in just a few short minutes.
  • We live in a cynical postmodern age when it’s easy to scoff at break-out-into-song musicals and too-good-to-be-true type stories about wholesome families. But it’s hard not to be moved by the story of the Von Trapps—considering that the core story we are shown actually happened—and its message that it’s never too late to fix a broken family. So another greatest gift is the movie’s power to inspire parents and families to work harder at showing love, patience, and kindness, and to find common interests. Maybe that common interest is singing, maybe it’s puppet shows, maybe its hiking in the mountains. Whatever it is, this film tells us there’s hope that even the most dysfunctional of families can change.
  • This is also a picture that takes us back to childhood—whether that’s because you remember first seeing and falling for it as a child, or because it’s easy to live vicariously through the Von Trapp children and the joy they experience in Maria’s presence.
  • Lastly, the incredible exterior visuals are a greatest gift. This is one of the great examples of a movie serving as a board of tourism-like marketing tool to get viewers immersed in and intrigued to visit a foreign country.
  • Just as “Manhattan” serves as a visual love letter to New York, “Amelie” poetically portrays Paris, Rome becomes a wonderfully romantic getaway in “Roman Holiday,” and “The Quiet Man” paints our imagination about Ireland green, “The Sound of Music” makes us want to vacation to Salzburg and explore Austria.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 55 years? Why or why not?

  • One probably doesn’t have to worry much about a 55-year-old film that remains this popular. It continues to be shown on broadcast television usually once a year on ABC, and now that Disney owns the rights and offers the movie on its streaming channel, it should continue to earn new generations of fans.


Welcome to Scarlet Street--where the road runs red with blood and nail polish

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The great thing about classic noir films is that even the lower-budget and lesser-known examples from the genre are usually grade A pictures that continue to reward new generations that discover them and are willing to take a closer look. Exhibit A is Scarlet Street, a great little crime thriller from 1945 and directed by Fritz Lang and starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. Here is a summary of our CineVerse talk about this movie (click here to listen to our recorded group conversation):

What did you find interesting, curious, or unexpected about Scarlet Street?

  • It’s pretty “adult” for a 1945 movie subjected to heavy censorship standards. While the filmmakers couldn’t come out and say or show it, it’s suggested that Kitty is a prostitute and Johnny is her pimp. (For symbolic proof, think about how Kitty lives in her own “filth,” with cigarette butts and dirty dishes all around.) Also, the concept of Kitty being a “kept” woman or mistress to Chris would have been controversial at this time.
  • This is a surprisingly bleak, haunting, and tragic film, and the hand of fate at work here seems especially cruel. As in many of Lang’s films, all types of characters—virtuous and corrupt alike—can be suddenly struck by terrible misfortune.
    • Even though he steals money to fund Kitty’s dreams and is attempting to cheat on his wife, Chris comes across as sympathetic and likable. Arguably, he doesn’t deserve the treatment he receives from others, including Kitty, Johnny, and his wife.
    • Johnny, while completely unsympathetic, doesn’t deserve to die in the electric chair because he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
    • Also, think about how unkind and heartless the world is to Chris, a person who has a heart. Bad things happen to good people in Lang’s cosmology.
  • Scarlet Street predates even the earliest instances of slasher films. We witness Chris kill Kitty with an ice pick, a quick and sudden scene that develops and which would have been shocking to mid-1940s audiences for its explicit violence and for the fact that we never expect Chris to perpetrate this action.
    • In some ways, Scarlet Street is arguably more a horror film than noir, thanks to the ice pick murder scene, the failed hanging, and the haunting guilty conscience ending that some people say makes this the “creepiest, darkest old film they’ve ever seen,” according to DVD Savant critic Glenn Erickson.

Themes crafted into Scarlet Street

  • Inescapable doom, fate, and destiny. Consider our lead character’s name: Chris Cross, which suggests a marked man, a star-crossed tragic fool. Lang explores this theme of unavoidable providence in many of his movies. Ponder how everything eerily falls into place, as if set up by the Greek fates, for Chris to murder Kitty, including his proximity to an ice pick.
  • Karmic irony. Perhaps the cruelest punishment Chris has to endure is knowing that his paintings are treasured and worth a fortune by others, all while he is penniless and unable to benefit.
  • The “corruption of innocence,” Erickson posits, and the suddenness with which a good person can be compelled to kill someone.
  • The most worthy and talented artists aren’t driven by pride or ego. Erickson wrote: “Chris is an artist because his paintings are pure emotion without an investment of ego…Chris is truly inspired and tragically pure.”
    • Interestingly, Lang could be making a subtle self-commentary here that his best work may come more from smaller “labor of love” type projects like Scarlet Street, which may not be appreciated by the masses until long after he’s gone or able to enjoy the adulation.
  • Gender debasement
    • Think about how Chris is emasculated time and again by his henpecking wife, being forced to wear the apron as she figuratively wears the pants in the relationship.
    • He’s also dissed by his boss, who suddenly departs the party he’s holding for Chris so that he can instead spend time with his young mistress, and by the patch-eyed ex-husband, who suddenly returns and draws a stark, more stereotypically masculine contrast to Chris’ meek and humble image of a male spouse.
    • We also see Chris paint Kitty's toenails, a task many would consider belittling for a man.
    • Likewise, Kitty is physically abused and demeaned by her pimp boyfriend—behavior that she twistedly finds attractive and desirable.

Other movies that Scarlet Street brings to mind

  • The Woman in the Window
  • La Chienne (The Bitch), an earlier adaptation of this story directed by Jean Renoir
  • Numerous films noir of the classic 1941-1958 period

Other notable films directed by Fritz Lang

  • Metropolis
  • M
  • Fury
  • Man Hunt
  • The Woman in the Window
  • The Ministry of Fear
  • The Big Heat
  • Human Desire
  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt


The hills are alive with the sound of Cineversary

Monday, April 20, 2020

For Cineversary podcast episode #22, host Erik Martin sings the praises of "The Sound of Music," celebrating a 55th anniversary this month, and is joined by Julia Hirsch, former story editor for director Robert Wise and author of the book "The Sound of Music: The Making of America’s Favorite Movie." Erik and Julia examine why this beloved musical is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.

Julia Hirsch
To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Pocket Casts, Google Play Music, PodBean, RadioPublic, and Overcast.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to


The power of good journalism meets the merits of a mighty movie

Thursday, April 16, 2020

It's hard to compete with "All the President's Men" as an exemplary newspaper movie that defines a generation and the time in which it was made. But "Spotlight," released in 2015 but set in the early 2000s, is deserving of that praise. Why? Read on for a summary of our discussion points shared during last night's CineVerse meeting on Zoom (to listen to our recorded discussion, click here).

What’s unique about this film as a suspense thriller, procedural, or newspaper movie?

  • Although there’s a lot of reporter movement and activity shown, it relies on very little action: Most of the plot involves phone calls, face-to-face interviews, and meetings.
  • Other thrillers typically include elements like chases, explosions, sex, and violence to keep your attention.
  • The villains are mostly offscreen. Other than Cardinal Law and a brief scene early in the film of an accused priest, we don’t see the 90 or so priests alleged to have abused these children. They remain enigmatic, elusive, and mysterious.
  • Because this was such a big story reported on back in 2002, many viewers already know how it begins and ends—which is a rarity among films of this type
  • Some have said “Spotlight” has a documentary-like feel to it, as if we’re witnessing history unfolding.

Even though the plot relies on phone conversations, interviews, and little traditional action, why and how is “Spotlight” so gripping and suspenseful?

  • We already know the resolution ahead of time, yet it’s how the characters get to that point that is fascinating. Those who already know how it’s going to end are forced to pay attention to the details—how the journalists pieced together the puzzle.
  • Having an ensemble cast, in which each of the four “Spotlight” journalists roughly get equal time without overshadowing each other, also helps rivet our focus and force us to pay close attention to each person’s discoveries that help get the story for the Boston Globe. Usually, the rule of thumb for a good movie is that you need strong character development. Here, we learn very little about each of the four reporters or their personal lives, but it doesn’t detract from our interest in and enjoyment of the film.
  • Like “All the President’s Men” before it, “Spotlight” also does a fantastic job of accurately depicting how reporters work to get the story, how meticulous their standards have to be, and the sleuthing skills required of these individuals. It gives us a rare and authentic look inside this profession, which audiences find intriguing and revealing.
  • To the film’s credit, we aren’t given scenery-chewing, scene-stealing soapboxing, soliloquy-delivering, or melodramatic acting or dialogue. By employing a more subtle, nuanced approach, the filmmakers and actors let the development of this newspaper story tell the tale rather than focus predominantly on any one character or subplot.
  • Additionally, the score is low-key; instead of submerging the story in musical bombast, it employs quieter, more brooding tones and cues that delicately amplify the mood and ratchet up the tension.

What themes stand out in “Spotlight”?

  • Getting to the truth requires lots of hard, meticulous work and patience, and the risks of failure and backlash are high. This story wasn’t broken in a day, week, or month. It took years to get to the full truth and fully tell this story.
  • Teamwork pays dividends. Here, no one Spotlight teammate is more important than any other, and all share a common goal: getting the story and telling it truthfully.
  • Journalism matters in this ever-changing, increasingly digital, and ultra-politicized world. “Spotlight’s” message, even though the plot concerns events that occurred nearly 20 years ago, resonates today: The fourth estate serves an essential purpose in a functioning democracy; yet, people are less inclined to trust journalists, read or pay attention to the news, and buy actual newspapers. Going forward, it’s likely going to get harder to break important stories like the church abuse scandal. This film forces us to ask the question: Could a story like this be uncovered now? And would an increasingly dubious and fickle public pay attention?

How do the filmmakers use architecture to comment on the story and situation?

  • By repeatedly showing church exteriors and interiors around the reporters’ territory of investigation, we are continually reminded of how integral and present the Catholic Church is to the greater Boston community.
  • Likewise, the main setting is the Boston Globe building and its many offices. That structure’s exterior is also shown a few times throughout the film.
  • Interestingly, the filmmakers also take us and the reporters up and down different levels to find the truth, including a trip down to the Globe’s dingy and smelly basement, where they uncover dark secrets.
  • Other structures stand out as memorable, including the spooky-looking house on Matty’s block where two abusing priests reside.

Other movies about the craft of journalism

  • Good Night and Good Luck
  • Broadcast News
  • The Insider
  • Citizen Kane
  • Absence of Malice
  • The Paper
  • The Post

Other films by director Tom McCarthy

  • The Station Agent
  • Win Win
  • The Visitor


There's gold in them thar Hollywood hills

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Last night, our CineVerse group reconvened online for its very first videoconference meeting to discuss Charles Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" (the 1925 original version). Despite this being a 95-year-old silent film, there was plenty to talk about (to hear our group discussion, click here). Here's a recap of our talking points:

What is it about the Little Tramp character that we identify with and enjoy? What’s the secret behind this character’s appeal?

  • The Little Tramp is kind of an everyman—a surrogate for the audience on a journey, quest, adventure, or experience.
  • He’s a likable underdog by virtue of being diminutive, often surrounded by bigger and stronger but not always smarter men.
  • Because the humor is often self-deprecating, making the Tramp the butt of jokes and a subject of humiliation, he makes us feel sympathy and empathy amidst the comedy. Indeed, he evokes a range of emotions from the viewer, which makes Chaplin a powerful and effective filmmaker and his Little Tramp so memorable. Some argue that Chaplin’s sensibilities are overly sentimentalized, that there’s too much pathos and maudlin mushiness in his movies—especially compared to his contemporary filmmaker/performer Buster Keaton. Others feel Chaplin hits the perfect emotional chords to leave us feeling satisfied by the end of the picture.
  • The key to appreciating the Little Tramp, however, is to realize that the inherent charm and humor comes from presenting a cartoonish character who always tries to maintain dignity, pride, normalcy, and virtue despite repeatedly being embarrassed, belittled, overlooked, mistreated, and not taken seriously and despite his impoverished look and condition.
  • He also expresses a gallantry, civility, sincerity, and romantic sensibility that make you root for him. DVD Savant writer Glenn Erickson wrote: “His depiction of romantic innocence is one of the highlights of the silent cinema.”

What’s significant about The Gold Rush and Chaplin at this time (1925)?

  • Some accounts have this as the highest-grossing silent comedy of all time.
  • In 1925, Chaplin was the world’s most famous person, recognized and beloved across the globe, and the highest-paid employee on the planet.
  • This was considered a major, epic film and production. Walter Kerr, author of “The Silent Clowns,” said only two comedies from the silent era earned the right to be called an epic: This film, and Buster Keaton’s “The General.”
  • What’s notable about “The Gold Rush” in Chaplin’s oeuvre and for comedies of the 1920s is that it’s kind of a stark and dark black comedy that traffics in death as well as laughs. Consider how we see other prospectors meet their demise throughout the story, such as Black Larsen and the unidentified man who collapses in the snow during the first scene up the mountain pass. We view the Tramp walked past a grave, see how hunger can drive a man to consider cannibalism, and watch as our heroes come perilously close to death as their cabin teeters on the edge of a cliff.
  • There are numerous unforgettable scenes and set pieces here, including the dinner roll dance, shoe-eating sequence, the fighting-the-wind scene, the dance with the tethered dog, the snow shoveling bit, and the harrowing sequence depicting the cabin hanging from the cliff’s edge.

What themes rise to the top after examining “The Gold Rush”?

  • Greed, luck, and resourcefulness. All of these qualities come back to reward or punish the prospector characters we follow. Some also see this film as an allegory for the untapped potential of Hollywood at the time—where gold of another kind was waiting to be mined by intrepid prospectors, many of whom would suffer in defeat while others struck it rich in the young boomtown.
  • Inner warmth can keep you alive in a cold world. The Tramp survives in large part because he demonstrates courage in the face of Mother Nature, courtesy and chivalry to Georgia and her friends, loyalty to Big Jim, and inventiveness making a meal out of whatever he can find.
  • The virtues of humility. At the story’s conclusion, we see that the Tramp is willing to shed his fur coats and put his hobo outfit back on upon request, suggesting that he won’t forget where he came from or how he got to his place of success.

Other films that remind us of The Gold Rush

  • The Call of the Wild
  • White Fang
  • North to Alaska
  • Alive

Other masterpieces by Chaplin

  • The Kid
  • The Circus
  • City Lights
  • Modern Times
  • The Great Dictator
  • Limelight


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