While not one of his best, Chaplin’s modest first feature paved the way for greater exploits to come.
Dir. Charles Chaplin
1921 | USA | Comedy/Drama | 53 mins | 1.33:1 | Silent
G (passed clean)
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance
Plot: The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy.
Subject Matter: Family
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
The first feature-length film by Charles Chaplin, The Kid is like an appetiser to the sumptuous buffet marked by later films such as City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936).
The Kid, as the title plainly suggests, is a story about a kid. Chaplin did not give him a name, so I will refer to him as Kiddo. Kiddo is played by Jackie Coogan, an immensely popular child actor of the pre-Depression era.
Kiddo is abandoned by his biological mother at birth. Circumstances arise and very quickly he falls into the hands of The Tramp (Chaplin), a down-to-earth and humble man who lives alone. After a series of comical situations involving a lady with a pram and an unsuspecting policeman, he ends up taking care of Kiddo himself.
The Kid focuses directly on the relationship between The Tramp and Kiddo. It has no other subplot which makes the film a straightforward endeavour about the intricate bond between two ‘simple-minded’ characters whom we can relate to.
The Tramp-Kiddo relationship allows the former to explore his maternal side as he raises the child up. And because his paternal instincts are not strong to begin with, The Tramp faces the challenge of proving his manhood to his ‘son’.
“A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear.”
In a key scene, The Tramp sees Kiddo in a fight with a local boy. His maternal self tells him to intervene but his paternal self takes over when he teaches Kiddo how to fight, but The Tramp ends up fighting the boy’s big-sized brother instead.
The result is hilarious as The Tramp goes one-on-one with the burly man—the scene itself might have inspired an even funnier boxing-match sequence in City Lights.
Many have had the misconception that Chaplin did only comedy, but he was equally adept with dramatic storytelling too, reaching possibly his peak with City Lights. In a way, The Kid laid the groundwork for Chaplin to further fine-tune his balance of comedy and drama.
But it does feel like a work-in-progress, and one might find the dream sequence in the final act tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film, not to mention the denouement seems rather abrupt. Nevertheless, this could be one of his best-scored films, with fantastic music by Chaplin himself.