The Gold Rush was the last movie Chaplin made before the specter of the "talkies" began to haunt him. Its brilliant set-pieces—Chaplin's character, the Little Tramp, performing the dance of the dinner rolls, Mack Swain hungrily mistaking the Tramp for a giant chicken, Swain and the Tramp feasting upon the latter's shoe, and the cabin teetering on the edge of the abyss—are among the highlights included in any assemblage of the classic moments of silent-film comedy. While all of Chaplin's silent features are somewhat episodic, they are held together by his sublime performances and inventive imagination.
The Gold Rush is Chaplin's most famous film, but it is atypical of his work in several ways. Its snowy wastes are far removed from his usual urban and rural settings. Cannibalism and murder seem peculiarly dark subjects for a comedy made in the middle of the twentieth century's most upbeat decade. The film also ends strangely, with the Tramp marrying and becoming a millionaire. The Gold Rush captured Chaplin in a time of relative contentment—one of the century's great geniuses at a moment of confidence in his ability to control his destiny and his art. Nevertheless, he returned in three later films as unshackled and poverty-stricken as ever.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 140.