Although I have never been much of a Charles Chaplin fan, The Kid is one sweet picture. In fact, it is the only Chaplin vehicle I would want to see over again.
The story, also penned by Chaplin, is simple: a poor, unwed mother (frequent Chaplin leading lady Edna Purviance) abandons her newborn son in an expensive car parked in front of a mansion, thinking some rich person will find and adopt him. Instead, the car is stolen by thieves and the baby is abandoned in an alley. Along comes Chaplin’s tramp, who takes him in after a few failed attempts to give him away.
Five years later, the baby has turned into a kid (Jackie Coogan) who teams up with his foster father in delinquent schemes to make a living fixing broken windows. They reside in a one-room shack in the slums, but their lives are rich with love. The two have a symbiotic relationship to the point where the kid is just a smaller version of the tramp.
The chemistry between the two is evident by the way they relate and care for each other. (I particularly liked the way the tramp kisses the boy goodnight and makes him comfortable when they are hiding out from the police in a flop house.) Chaplin’s physical acumen is never better when he is on the run, chasing after the kid when he is finally taken away. Chaplin’s pantomime makes the tramp’s passion for his child all the more convincing.
Jackie Coogan, for his part, is marvelous as the title character. His performance, which goes from comedy to tears, was amazing for a child his age. And to make a good movie even better, the music (composed by Chaplin for the 1971 reissue of the film) is fantastic, perfectly enhancing the action and the pathos.
I was profoundly touched by the scene where the mother – now a famous opera star – meets the kid in the slummy part of town and doesn’t realize he is her child. The tenderness between the two worked on a subliminal level. Somewhere deep inside, they recognized each other – but without actually being aware of it. (Pardon my over-active tear ducts.)
The only thing in The Kid that failed to impress me was the sequence when the kid has to fight the town bully. Fist-fighting wouldn’t be the way for these two cunning characters to handle conflict. They were streetwise and should have used their acquired skills to outsmart the violent dumbbells. Also, Chaplin’s dream sequence featuring angels was a bit distracting, though I understand his attempt to make a subconscious point about how much the tramp missed his child. (Also, I should point out that the running time of the version I saw was under one hour.)
Even though I agree with Margo Channing – “I detest cheap sentiment” – I loved this sentimental movie.
© Danny Fortune
The Kid (1921). Dir. / Scr.: Charles Chaplin. Cast: Charles Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Carl Miller.