These days, it isn’t all that uncommon for us to see a re-release of a film made several decades before: a director’s cut here, an extended edition there — there’s always someone looking to revive the popularity of something. Back in 1942, however, the notion wasn’t a terribly exploited (or even heard-of) one, but that didn’t stop the great Charlie Chaplin from pioneering yet another technique that would later become universal. Fully aware that contemporary moviegoers were no longer interested in seeing silent films, Chaplin followed his 1940 classic The Great Dictator with what can only be called a “director’s edition” of his 1925 hit, The Gold Rush.
Boasting new credits, different music, some sound effects, and narration by the man himself to boot (giving it a weird, almost Robert Benchley-like feel), Chaplin’s 1942 cut of The Gold Rush (wherein Chaplin’s immortal Little Tramp character searching for gold in the Yukon for the Klondike Gold Rush) presented the world with a shorter, finely-tuned edit of the film — one which changed the course of the film ever-so-slightly by removing a subplot or two. For Criterion’s latest release from Chaplin’s filmography, a splendid two-disc set has been assembled bringing us both versions of the AFI favorite, along with an assortment of special features.
Though both editions of the movie have seen the light of day on DVD before, the folks at The Criterion Collection have given us several new bonus items to behold, beginning with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix for the ’25 version (the ’42 cut contains an English mono soundtrack). Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance lends his brain and mouth to an audio commentary for the earlier edition of the film on Disc One, while Disc Two sports several featurettes about the timeless movie itself, ranging from a look at the history of The Gold Rush to the music Mr. Chaplin composed for it. Four trailers for the ’42 re-release are also included, as is a 26-page booklet written by Luc Sante.
While Chaplin himself only ever wanted to endorse his 1942 re-release of the film, you really can’t knock the original. As such, it’s truly wonderful to see The Criterion Collection give us both editions on one disc, and the assortment of special features (most of which are completely new) is just more gold dust to top this one off.