Kid, The (1921)

“Please love and care for this orphan child.”

Synopsis:
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.

Genres:

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




Must See?
Yes, both for its historical value and as an effectively heartwarming tale.

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One Response to “Kid, The (1921)”

  1. A once-must (with reservations), for its place in cinema history.

    Seeing this again, I find it’s not, for me, a favorite Chaplin film. However…I can’t argue with the fact that it has an undeniable sharpness and vitality (compared with a number of other films of its day) and is more than adequately inventive. And – if I can continue attempting to be objective – I think time has been kind to the film.

    It will appeal to others for its depiction of a love that grows between two outcasts of society – and I can appreciate that.

    It also makes a wise move in keeping captions to a minimum – and finds every opportunity to let the visual rule the day.

    My main issue comes with the latter part of the film, esp. the extended dream sequence. It’s a larger chunk of such a short film and it feels out-of-place – and not all that effective. Although I can see where it is helpful in off-setting the bleak (if still comic) tone in everything that comes before it. I just find it a little desperate when it serves so little purpose…except to make the film longer and compensate for the overall thinness of the plot.

    On top of that, once that sequence is over, there’s very little film left to tie things up with. The resolution is rushed and, for me, it’s not all that satisfactory…when it easily could have been.

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