THE KID, Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length production, is one of his most sentimental and most satisfying films, a simple but very effective blend of pathos and laughs, in which the Tramp finds an abandoned baby.
An unmarried woman (Edna Purviance), "whose only sin was motherhood," leaves the hospital with her newborn son and puts the baby in a limousine that's parked in front of a fancy mansion, with a note asking the owners to love and care for it. Two thieves come along and steal the car, find the baby,
and dump it in a back alley. A tramp (Chaplin) discovers the baby and tries to get rid of it, but he keeps getting it back. He decides to keep it after reading the note, and names the baby John. Meanwhile, the woman has changed her mind and runs back to the mansion, only to find that the car has
Five years later, the baby has grown into a cute little boy (Jackie Coogan) who deeply loves his "father," the tramp. They earn a meager living by having the kid throw rocks at windows, with the tramp then walking by carrying a fresh pane of glass. Meanwhile, the woman has become a wealthy and
successful singer who does charity work in the slums. On one of her visits, she unwittingly runs into her son, and gives him a toy. John has a fight with a neighborhood boy, and the boy's huge brother beats up the tramp. The woman comes along and breaks it up, then tells the tramp that John is
ill. She sends for a doctor and the doctor finds the note about John being an orphan. He alerts the county orphan asylum and the authorities come to get the kid. After John hits the men in the head with a hammer, a cop comes in and holds the tramp as the kid is thrown into a truck. The tramp
escapes and jumps from roof to roof, then dives into the back of the truck and rescues the kid.
When the woman returns to the tramp's house to check on John, the doctor tells her what has happened, and she realizes that John is her own son after the doctor shows her the note that she had written years before. The tramp and the kid go to a flop house, but the proprietor sees a notice in the
newspaper offering a $1000 reward for the recovery of a lost child. When the tramp falls asleep, he grabs the kid and takes him to the police station. The mother is waiting there and she's reunited with her son. The tramp returns home and falls asleep in his doorway, where he dreams about the slum
being transformed into a heavenly paradise and its denizens into angels. The tramp is awakened by a cop, who takes him to the woman's house, and the kid runs out and hugs him.
Chaplin incorporated a number of autobiographical elements in THE KID, drawing on his childhood memories of growing up in poverty, right down to the shack where he and the kid live. Despite the happy ending, the depiction of slum life is exceedingly harsh and realistic, yet rendered in humorous
ways, such as when the tramp feeds the baby by slapping a nipple onto the end of a tea kettle, or when he makes a coat by cutting a hole in a bedsheet. As usual, Chaplin expertly balances the pathos with moments of sheer delight, preventing the film from becoming maudlin. The fight scene is a
classic of balletic pantomime and comic timing, as when the tramp ducks away from the bully and keeps bopping him on the head with a brick. Chuck Reisner, who plays the bully and was also the film's associate director, later became a full-time director under the name Charles F. Reisner, making
films with Buster Keaton, The Marx Brothers, and Abbott & Costello.
The whimsical fantasy of the dream sequence seems out of place with the rest of the film, but it's extremely well done, featuring dancing angels and flying puppies, and one of the actresses in this scene ("The Flirting Angel"), is Lita Grey, who would become Chaplin's wife in 1924. Jackie Coogan,
who was six-years-old when the film was made, matches Chaplin scene for scene, whether comedically, as when he's copying the way the tramp wipes his face after dipping his fingers in a water bowl; or dramatically, as when he gets a look of sheer terror and bursts into tears, stretching out his
hands and pleading not to be taken to the orphanage. In his oversized cap and ragged overalls, Coogan is adorable, and it would take a heart of stone not to shed a tear or two for his plight. THE KID may be overly melodramatic and sentimental, but in its own sweet, unpretentious way, it's one of
Chaplin's best films.
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- Review: THE KID, Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length production, is one of his most sentimental and most satisfying films, a simple but very effective blend of pathos and laughs, in which the Tramp finds an abandoned baby. An unmarried woman (Edna Purviance),… (more)