IMDB #189 The Kid

We've already dabbled in silent-era comedy with Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! some time ago, and at some point we'll also cover Buster Keaton's stunt-work opus The General. But there's no greater comic genius than Charlie Chaplin, who makes the first of four trips with 1921's The Kid, the earliest film on the countdown.

The Key Players:

In 1914, Chaplin was a bit player for Keystone Studios, and was told to put on a funny getup for a short film- he grabbed baggy pants, a tight sportcoat, a small derby hat, and applied his signature small mustache and The Tramp was born.

He would connect with audiences through this funny visage for decades, with a funny walk, not a penny to his name, and his heart on his sleeve. It was The Tramp's often foiled quest for love that hooked people upon his debut Post-WWI, but his economic struggles and embodiment of the American Dream during the depression endeared him even more in films like City Lights and Modern Times.

I suppose there are other key players, but Chaplin is credited as producer, director, writer, and composer for The Kid. Jackie Coogan, cinema's first child star, would play Uncle Fester in "The Adams Family" as an adult. Chaplin's one-time paramour Edna Purviance also has a key role, while Chaplin's future wife Lita Grey has a small one.

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The Story:

The Kid is in most ways a deeply personal story, as it centers on a ghetto not unlike the streets of London where Chaplin grew up, and on an adoptive son of The Tramp, just after Chaplin's first son died three days after birth.

Purviance, as "The Woman," is booted out of a Charity Hospital for being an unwed mother. She leaves the infant in the backseat of a rich family's car with a note pleading "Please love and care for this orphan child." But the car is stolen by street hoodlums, who leave the baby in an alleyway after it starts to cry.

Cue The Tramp, who finds the bundle and looks quizzically into the sky. He tries to pawn off the bundle in a passing mother's crib, but gets an umbrella to the head for the effort. He reads the note and decides to adopt the child- there's a great moment when a neighbor asks the baby's name, and he has to leave and return before replying "John." The Woman goes back to the house and faints at the missing car.

Five years later, The Tramp and The Kid (now Coogan) are running a scheme where the latter throws rocks through people's windows just before the former, working as a glazier, happens to pass by. They get into a spot of trouble when they run the scam on a cop's wife, but otherwise live a shoestring life of domestic tenderness.

The Woman, now a famous opera singer, does regular charity in their very neighborhood, and wistfully looks on at the children- she even gives a toy to The Kid himself! The toys lead to one of my favorite sequences in the film:

I laughed the loudest when The Kid knocks down the bully for the last time.

Anyway, The Kid falls ill, and the doctor calls the welfare authorities- this leads to perhaps the most emotional scene in silent comedy history as The Tramp is restrained by cops as The Kid is taken away. Will they ever reunite?

The Artistry:

What's to say- I've seen the more expansive Modern Times, but there's a simplicity and honesty to The Kid that I like even more. Chaplin's expressive face (no offense to Groucho, but his greasepaint-affected visage didn't leave much room for subtlety) does as much work as any modern-day comedian without going over the top. He's just as funny harried avoiding a beating as he is casually using a hole in an old blanket as an impromptu poncho.

He and Coogan make a great duo, and a more moving tandem to root for than, say, Harold Lloyd and some rich girl he wants to impress.

The Kid departs in the late going into an odd dream sequence that re-envisions the ghetto as a gilded heavy where everyone wears white robes and angel wings, but it doesn't go on too long, and has its own funny moments.


The Tramp catches up with The Kid in a classic rooftop chase sequence:

The Woman meets the doctor, who has her original note, she puts it together and puts out a reward for anyone who can help locate her son. The Tramp and The Kid have put up in a flophouse for the night, but the proprietor sees the notice and carries off the sleeping Kid.

The Tramp, distraught, returns to the ghetto and falls asleep on the stoop for the aforementioned angel dream sequence. Finally the cop wakes him up, and takes him to The Woman's large house, where he's reunited with The Kid, and they all go inside, presumably to become a family.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I suppose I might need to wait until I see City Lights, The Great Dictator, and so on, but for a thousand times higher. What other film from 1921 could make me laugh this much? The Kid works across decades like the greatest literature, and (as a silent film) in a universal language.

The Legacy:

The Kid would be the second highest grossing film of 1921 (to The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse), launched a Coogan-based merchandising craze, and cemented Chaplin's future in longer features instead of short films. It's on all those AFI top 100 type lists, though not yet in the National Film Registry.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Seeing as I couldn't help myself with the clips above, just go here and watch the whole thing online. Since it's the only countdown entry made before 1923, it's entirely in the public domain according to the Copyright act of 1976. So it's legal, for once.

Leftover Thoughts:

-It's a shame Hitler stole the mustache and ran with it, though Chaplin more than paid him back with The Great Dictator. Still, if you go for The Tramp for Halloween you can't take off your hat the whole night.

-Is the National Film Registry hiring? Is there someone whose job it is to watch old films and make the call on inclusion?

Coming Up...

Tomorrow: 188. The Best Years Of Our Lives

Tue, June 1st: 187. The Exorcist

Fri, June 4th: 186. Kind Hearts and Coronets

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