Matchup of the Day: The Thief of Bagdad vs. The Gold Rush
Today’s matchup features two films where a man who has it all discovers that love is the greatest treasure. Charlie Chaplin has said of The Gold Rush, “This is the picture that I want to be remembered by.” It is among the most profitable silent films of all time. The Thief of Bagdad won Academy Awards for Cinematography, Production Design and Special Effects.
In The Gold Rush, Charlie Chaplin sets off to the Klondike to strike gold. This is the first Chaplin film I’ve managed to sit through, as I’ve never been too keen on slapstick as a form of humor. While there is an abundance of physical antics in the film, the characters have a certain endearing quality that makes the silliness palatable. My favorite was Big Jim McKay who spends much of the movie in an amnesiac daze after being bashed with a shovel by the outlaw Black Larsen. Also, the scene where Chaplin and McKay are starving and he hallucinates that Chaplin is a human-sized chicken was surreally comedic.
The main focus of Gold Rush, though, is Chaplin’s infatuation with Georgia, who performs at the dancehall. I laughed each time she appeared on screen because she was always introduced by intertitles declaring “Georgia” over the image of a flower. At first, she doesn’t take Chaplin seriously. When she realizes that he is genuinely fond of her she has a change of heart. Chaplin becomes separated from her after Jim McKay remembers where his gold deposit is and the pair become wealthy. He laments that he has “Everything but Georgia”.
The Thief of Bagdad is about the fabulously wealthy King of Bagdad, Ahmad, who is tricked out of his throne by his treacherous Grand Vizier, Jaffar. At the beginning of the film he possesses everything he could possibly want yet is still unfulfilled. After he loses it all and escapes from being imprisoned by Jaffar, Ahmad journeys to Basra where he sets eyes on the alluring Princess. He is immediately enamoured, as is often the case with male heroes in movies. Jaffar, unfortunately, also has designs on the Princess and becomes an obstacle in Ahmad’s quest for love. With the help of his loyal sidekick, Abu (who is the Thief of the title), Ahmad manages to overcome Jaffar’s villainous machinations. His rule is restored, his people are freed from Jaffar’s tyranny, and he marries the Princess. Abu rides off to adventure on a magic carpet.
Chaplin is also reunited with Georgia in Gold Rush. If I had to choose which love story most warmed my heart, the Chaplin/Georgia combo would be the winner. With Bagdad, there wasn’t a whole lot of build up to justify Ahmad going through so much trouble for the Princess. From what I could tell, she was just really pretty. Chaplin was more of an underdog, and Georgia’s affection for him was more believable.