Sometimes a film performance is so perfect that you take the character home and make her part of your life. Giulietta Masina isn’t the kind of person I’d ordinarily invite over for dinner. A low-class prostitute with quite a mouth on her, you wouldn’t guess that she’s a sweetheart underneath.
But look at how much fun she’s having in the posh nightclub, doing the mambo with the self-absorbed actor who picked her up after a snit with his girlfriend. “People want to watch her unrehearsed reaction to the world,” said one commentator on the Criterion DVD. Others have compared her—aptly—to Charlie Chaplin. The closing scene of “Nights of Cabiria” strikes the same chord as the end of “City Lights.”
Masina was a comic genius who moved with grace, but wasn’t too proud to take a pratfall. She could make you laugh one moment, break your heart the next. Her performance opposite Anthony Quinn in “La Strada” was so devastating I haven’t had the courage to watch that film again.
This one I could watch a hundred times.
First of all you’ve got to realize that by the time “The Gold Rush” appeared, in 1925, Charlie Chaplin had a world-wide following. People lined up on opening night, eager to see his latest antics. So imagine the delight of the audience when the Little Tramp appeared, in his usual get-up, and walking his funny walk, in snowy Alaska.
“The Gold Rush” has my two favorite scenes ever. There’s the one where the Little Tramp eats his shoe — he gives the fearsome Big Jim the choicest portion, but still manages to savor the sole and laces, down to the last nail.
Then you get the famous Table Ballet, which is just about everyone’s favorite. A few years ago, I was riding on a train in Europe and the couple in the seats across the aisle staged their own version of the dance for the benefit of their toddler. The little boy’s laughter filled the train compartment.
Layered beneath the laughs and the slapstick of “The Gold Rush” is a poignant story. The Little Tramp gets his heart broken by a dance hall girl. The image of him sitting all alone in his cabin on New Year’s Eve, listening to the closing notes of “Auld Lang Syne” as they waft up from the dance hall in the town, will break your heart as well.
Chaplin said that this was the film he wanted to be remembered by; he was so fond of it, he reworked the picture in 1942, editing out a few scenes, adding narration and a new score. I think the original version is better. Never fails to make me smile.