He may be called "The Lone Prospector" in The Gold Rush, but the character played by Charlie Chaplin is the same wistful, resourceful Little Tramp that had been entertaining the world and its brother since 1914. A most unlikely participant in the 1898 Yukon gold rush, Charlie finds himself sharing a remote cabin with two much larger and more menacing-looking prospectors: Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain) and Black Larsen (Tom Murray). Big Jim isn't really a bad sort, but Larsen is a murderer and thief. When the food supply runs out, Larsen heads out in the snowy wastes to hunt, leaving Charlie to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for Big Jim, consisting of roasted shoe. The days pass: in a delirium, Big Jim imagines that Charlie is a huge chicken, and voraciously takes after him with an axe; Charlie saves himself by inadvertently shooting a bear, thereby providing enough food for ten men (Chaplin's inspiration for this episode was the cannibalistic activities of the Donner Party). When the winds subside, Charlie and Big Jim part company. Charlie heads off to seek his fortune in a nearby gold-rush community, while Big Jim lucks upon a "mountain of gold" -- just before he is ambushed and knocked unconscious by Black Larsen. Larsen himself is then killed by an avalanche, leaving Big Jim to wander aimlessly, his memory gone. Meanwhile, Charlie has fallen in love, from afar, with self-reliant saloon girl Georgia (Georgia Hale) who doesn't know that he exists. By a fluke, Charlie and Georgia meet, whereupon Charlie invites the girl to New Year's Eve dinner in the cabin that he is tending for a local prospector. While preparing for dinner, Charlie imagines that Georgia has arrived with her friends; he entertains the girls by jabbing two forks in two rolls, then performing a captivating little "dance" with the pastries. Awakening from his dream, Charlie disconsolately realizes that Georgia has forgotten all about his little party, and isn't going to show up. The next day, Big Jim arrives in town and is shaken out of his amnesia when he spots Charlie. Hoping that the little prospector will help him find his mountain of gold, Big Jim heads back to the mountains with Charlie in tow. The two men nearly come to grief when their cabin, blown by the wind to a mountain precipice, leans precariously over the edge--a peril intensified when Charlie, clinging to the floor, develops a sudden case of hiccups! Luck of luck, the cabin slides safely down the side of the mountain, landing directly upon Big Jim's gold strike. Now fabulously wealthy, Charlie and Big Jim head back to the States on a freighter. Also on board is Georgia, who is unaware that Charlie has struck it rich and thinks that he's a stowaway. She offers to hide him from the authorities, and it is at this point that Charlie and Georgia discover that they're truly in love with one another. The Gold Rush was the longest (it ran nine reels, cut down from its ten-reel preview length) and most elaborately produced of Chaplin's silent comedies (it took him fourteen months to complete). Even so, critics of the era chastised Chaplin for permitting the Little Tramp to win the girl at the end, arguing that the character's "integrity" was damaged by so happy an ending. Evidently, Chaplin took this criticism to heart: in his 1942 reissue of The Gold Rush, for which he wrote a narration and musical score, Chaplin removed the final embrace between the Lone Prospector and Georgia, fading out on a wealthy -- but still unattached -- Charlie strolling about the deck.
by Hal Erickson synopsis