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1 review, 5 user ratings

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Kid, The (1921)
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by Jay Seaver

"Chaplin did it first, and arguably best."
4 stars

Imagine, if you will, a screenwriter or producer making a pitch to a Hollywood executive for a heartwarming family movie about a man who unexpectedly becoming a father, raising the child in an unconventional way, and then facing losing that child due to a busybody who frowns upon their unusual home life. Wouldn't the world be a much better place if, in order to get his money, the pitcher was forced to explain how this improved upon what Charlie Chaplin did in this movie? Without color. Or sound. Ninety years ago. With a run time of less than one hour (and that kind of padded).

Of course, that basic story likely had a few whiskers on it by 1921, so we get into it fairly quickly: An unmarried woman (Edna Purviance) gives birth, and attempts to leave her baby with a wealthy family. She soon reconsiders, but the boy instead winds up in the care of a certain penniless tramp (Chaplin). Five years later, the kid (Jackie Coogan) is helping his dad out on a little grift, but when he falls ill, the doctor (Jules Hanft) looks at the state of the Tramp's apartment and calls the authorities.

Movies with this basic plot tend toward the mawkish and ridiculous these days, and most would probably be much better if they took a lesson from The Kid and didn't worry so much about the story arc and plot. The bulk of the Tramp's transformation occurs in the first ten minutes, as he tries to give someone else this responsibility before embracing it, while at the other end of the movie, Chaplin gives us the ending that feels right without expending a lot of effort on just how one realistically gets there. He certainly doesn't drag the audience into a courtroom for an impassioned plea. Sure, part of that is because it wouldn't work in a silent movie at all, but it's not like anybody likes those scenes in talkies, either. He knows what the audience wants, and finds economical ways of giving it to them.

What we want, for the most part, is scenes of The Tramp and The Kid together, getting into the sort of mischief that leads to physical comedy. Chaplin delivers this several times over, whether in their run-down apartment or on the streets where the boy breaks windows so that the father can sell replacement glass, especially during a fight between the kid and a bully which leads to one between the tramp and the bully's muscular older brother. Chaplin's style of slapstick here isn't as elaborate or adrenaline-charged as that of Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, but what he lacks in scale, he makes up in perfect timing; every gag is executed with utmost precision, even the ones (like the lengthy dream sequence toward the end) that maybe aren't well-conceived.

What Chaplin did better than any of the other great silent comedians was to create pathos and character. The Tramp and the Kid are a wonderful pair, immediately iconic but also natural in a way that silent-film characters don't often manage to be. The chemistry between them is fantastic, so great that Chaplin as the director can slide from a playful fondness to desperation and back again, using the skid-row backdrop for atmosphere while still managing to be very funny.

(For the record: The print screened is the recent Janus Films re-issue, running 54 minutes at 24 frames per second on 35mm, with Chaplin's original score on the print.)

"The Kid" isn't perfect - the last big set piece doesn't quite work for me, for instance - but it's still both essential and highly entertaining. It's the model for a great many movies that came after it, and few of them are anywhere near a good.

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originally posted: 10/12/11 14:40:49
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User Comments

7/26/20 Suzanne Chaplin and Coogan simply captivated me. 5 stars
9/17/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess One of Chaplin's best (and that's saying something)! 5 stars
9/08/04 Douglas Reese THIS MOVIE KICKS ASS!!! 5 stars
6/03/04 tatum An absolutely perfect film in every way 5 stars
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  DVD: 02-Mar-2004



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