There’s something that’s romantic about searching for treasure. Many think of swashbuckling pirates burying treasure on some exotic beach. Others think of caves filled with jewels which can only be found by following a map to where “X” marks the spot. And yet, the most realistic of these revolved around gold rushes. Your chances are much better finding gold ore than finding buried chests or hidden caves. Still, there remains some romanticism about gold rushes. Placing all your hopes and dreams on the chance to strike gold and become fabulously wealthy has a certain charm to it, crazy and dirty prospectors notwithstanding. The hardships involved with staking a claim are truly some of the most extreme versions of “Man versus Nature” that can occur in cinema. This week’s two films look at gold rushes in two different parts of the world and the struggles of those who want to strike it rich.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 126 minutes / 2.1 hours
There’s gold in them hills! While the desert of Mexico can be harsh and unforgiving, the mountains aren’t much more lenient. And yet, the biggest battle in finding gold is the search for the source. Sure, you can pan for a bit of it in rivers, but if you really want to strike it big, you need to head up into the mountains to find the source of the tiny flakes you’ve found in the riverbed. Of course, once you’ve found some gold, that’s only the first part of the struggle. Now you have to extract it from the ground while at the same time hoping that no one else knows where you’ve found your fortune. It’s difficult to really get at the gold all by yourself, so it’s wise to get some people to help you out, but in this greedy world, who can you truly trust?
Howard (Walter Huston, who won Best Supporting Actor) is a prospector in Mexico who has found gold in the Sierra Madres. Of course, he couldn’t have done it without the help of Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curin (Tim Holt), who were two unemployed men who convinced him to let them help in his search for gold. While the prospector and his two new friends stake their claim, which was no easy feat to begin with, they need to protect it from some local bandits who prey on the hard work of others. But even if the bandits don’t take the gold, how can Howard really trust his two partners? After all, during a gold rush, everyone is in it for themselves. As Howard watches his back, he starts thinking how he can get rid of the others so he can take the whole treasure for himself.
The Gold Rush
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours
The flip side of the gold rush coin from the deserts of Mexico is the icy cold of the Alaskan gold rush. Each environment has its hazards: deserts have deadly animals and little to no water, while the wintry cold and whipping winds are unforgiving during a search for golden ore. And while the frostbite, starvation and other difficult circumstances can easily bring anyone down, there are some that remain endlessly optimistic. If there was one character that could take any dire circumstance and turn it into comedy gold, it’s Charlie Chaplin’s “Tramp”. Taking everything in stride, he doesn’t let the worst of it get him down, even though he would have every right to give up. In that sense, perhaps the “gold” in The Gold Rush is the heart that lies within hope and determination.
Charlie Chaplin has been hailed as the master of silent film comedy, and The Gold Rush is no exception to this rule. In it, Chaplin (who also directs) plays the Little Tramp, who has decided to go up to Alaska to take advantage of the gold rush going on there. With challenges like a misbehaving house, loneliness and hungry roommates, the Tramp endures it all for a chance at a little wealth and fortune. Without saying a word, Chaplin could express absolutely any emotion on the screen. It is no wonder that his silent films have held up so well over time. The Gold Rush was placed on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) top 100 list at #58.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fortunes!