“Please love and care for this orphan child.”
A tramp (Charlie Chaplin) adopts an infant left in a car by an unwed mother (Edna Purviance), and soon grows to love him like a son. When the child (Jackie Coogan) is eventually taken away by social workers, Chaplin does everything possible to get him back.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that Charlie Chaplin’s “first feature film” was also “his most autobiographical work, one in which he dared relive, through five-year-old Jackie Coogan, memories of a destitute childhood, his need for a mother, and the fear of being sent to an orphanage”. For the first time, Chaplin was able to craft “characters from [whom] humor develops naturally rather than do[ing] some quick slapstick immediately to hook an audience; show that he was an actor who could do comedy and not just a clown; and establish a story (part drama, part comedy) that he… needn’t dominate”. Peary further points out that this “moving film has remarkable interplay between Chaplin and Coogan, who loved each other off screen as well”, and notes that it has not only “tear-jerking scenes” but “great comic moments” as well — though he argues that the “interestingly filmed dream sequence” would “work better if it came earlier, so as not to break momentum”.
Peary’s review just about sums up the essence of this historically pivotal film, which paved the way for Chaplin’s future successes, and left us with some truly indelible images — most notably that of Coogan (a marvelous child actor) sobbing for his “father” while being taken away by supposedly well-meaning authority figures. To that end, the storyline is undeniably melodramatic — starting with an unwed mother who must give up her child, and ending with an unrealistically coincidental denouement. But Chaplin handles the material so well — carefully weaving moments of genuine humor into a situation rife with heartache — that we’re willing to forgive the film’s more manipulative elements. My favorite moments: Chaplin rigging an ad hoc milk bottle for the squalling infant (I can only imagine how many hours of footage perfectionist Chaplin must have shot to get the resulting sequence!); Chaplin sneaking Coogan into his bed at a shelter; Chaplin’s pockets being picked by a sleeping neighbor.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Jackie Coogan as the Kid
- Many memorable moments
Yes, both for its historical value and as an effectively heartwarming tale.