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Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush Plays Rafael Film Center

12/22/2011 11:53 am ET | Updated Feb 21, 2012

Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp character returns to both the big screen and the Bay Area with a 35mm print of the actor and director's recently restored masterpiece, The Gold Rush. The 1925 comedy screens for seven days beginning December 23 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

Set in a wintry Yukon (though shot in and around Truckee in Nevada County), this silent classic follows a lone prospector -- played by Chaplin -- as he falls in love with a beautiful saloon girl played by Georgia Hale. The film also features Mack Swain as Big Jim McKay, Tom Murray as Black Larsen, and Henry Bergman as Hank Curtis.

Swain -- a six foot two mountain of a man -- was a Mack Sennett regular whose faltering career was revived by his appearance in The Gold Rush. Hale, a relative newcomer, achieved stardom with her role in the film, which was a huge hit. Rollie Totheroh, who shot many of Chaplin's films, served as the primary cameraman.

Legendary in the annals of film history, The Gold Rush is the film in which Chaplin eats his boot and, at a would-be New Year's Eve dinner gathering, poignantly performs the "Dance of the Rolls." In 1998, the American Film Institute chose The Gold Rush as one of the 100 greatest films ever made.

Seldom satisfied with his work, Chaplin added original music to the film in 1942, while also trimming several minutes and bridging the gaps with narration. Now, for the first time, the complete 1925 version -- without narration -- has been painstakingly restored. And, with the permission of the Chaplin estate, composer Timothy Brock has arranged Chaplin's 1942 orchestral score to accommodate the length of the original version. The film now runs 90 minutes.

According to Chaplin biographer David Robinson, "Charles Chaplin made The Gold Rush out of the most unlikely sources for comedy. The first idea came to him when he was viewing some stereoscope pictures of the 1896 Klondike gold rush, and was particularly struck by the image of an endless line of prospectors snaking up the Chilkoot Pass, the gateway to the gold fields. At the same time he happened to read a book about the Donner Party Disaster of 1846, when a party of immigrants, snowbound in the Sierra Nevada, were reduced to eating their own moccasins and the corpses of their dead comrades... Chaplin -- proving his belief that tragedy and ridicule are never far apart -- set out to transform these tales of privation and horror into a comedy."

Today, The Gold Rush is regarded as one of Chaplin's most accomplished films. Though his opinion of his own work changed over the years, to the end of his life Chaplin frequently stated that of all his films this was the one by which he would most wish to be remembered. Go to the Rafael Film Center to find out why.

The Gold Rush plays at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street) December 23 through December 29, 2011. A list of dates and show times for The Gold Rush at the Rafael Film Center can be found at http://www.cafilm.org/rfc/films/1644.html.

Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary silent film star and one time paramour of Charlie Chaplin. Gladysz has contributed to books, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced the actress's films around the world. Last year, he edited and wrote the introduction to the "Louise Brooks Edition" of Margarete Bohme's The Diary of a Lost Girl.