Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid.
This was Chaplin's first feature length movie as writer, director and star. And it's a masterpiece. The little tramp finds an orphan baby and winds up raising him. Five years later the kid is a scrappy little guy that, thanks to the little tramps upbringing, is already an aspiring petty thief and huckster. The little tramp may not be the best parent in the world but their father/son relationship is genuinely touching and often hilarious.
This is the little tramp at his most feisty. The scene where the kid gets taken away and the little tramp goes out the window, climbs over several rooftops, fights off a policeman, and jumps into a moving truck to save the kid is perhaps the little tramp's finest hour.
Here was Chaplin's true genius. He combined comedy with high drama in a way that never seemed contrived. That's why I think this movie and City Lights are his best work, as they produce laughter and tears.
Jackie Coogan is wonderful as the kid. He is easily Chaplin's most memorable costar and the only one to steal a scene or two. He is funny, especially in the scene where he gets into a fight with a much bigger kid and proceeds to kick his butt. When the little tramp attempts to break it up he picks the kid up by his britches. The kid hangs there but continues trying to fight by swinging his arms and legs. Then when the kid gets taken away he lets loose with some inspiring crying, let's just say Jackie Cooper and Ricky Schroder had nothing on Coogan.
The dream sequence at the end where the little tramp sees all the characters from the movie prancing around the street dressed as angels is both surreal and clever. You can see his influence on Woody Allen. One thing that always set Chaplin apart from Keaton and Lloyd was the fact that their movies were more everyday life and early 20th Century Americana while Chaplin's always had an Old World mystique in their characters and settings and seemed more of the 19th Century.
Upon its release The Kid was a box office smash and more than 80 years later it remains a completely satisfying movie right up to the happy ending.
The tramp and the kid.
The Kid best demonstrates what separates Chaplin from Keaton and Lloyd. By having The little Tramp find and raise a child, Chaplin humanized him in a way never seen in his other films. Often, the Tramp looked for food, money or a woman. Here he took care of a child and was thus a selfless person. It is impossible not to root for him.
My favorite scene is likewise when they try to take the kid away from him. The kid stands in the bed of the truck crying for the tramp. He plays to the back row. Did they over act then, or do we just notice the acting more because there is no dialogue? It is also interesting to note that Chaplin and the kid kiss each other several times on the lips, and share the same bed. As Patrick wrote, it is part of the Old World mystique, and would certainly not be seen in an American movie, in this post Michael Jackson world.
Another thing I noticed was the scene at the end when the kid’s mother walks into the police station to get him. The feathers in her hat are blowing from some unseen source. Silent films sets did not have roofs on them at first, so as to utilize the sun to light the actors. By allowing the sun in, they also had to deal with the wind.
The clarity on this restored edition of The Kid is stunning.
You hit on the difference between Chaplin and Keaton Eric. Keaton's characters, from what I've seen of them, don't generate sympathy in the same way that the Little Tramp does. Chaplin knows to mix pathos with the humor. Comedy tinged with sadness is always the best kind of comedy.
One of the things that impressed me about this movie is how well it has been preserved. After watching some Chaplin and Keaton shorts recently, and seeing how scratchy and dirty they look, The Kid was stunning in its clarity. It looks brand new. You can even see the makeup line on some of the actors, especially one of the car thieves. The detail available in each shot is amazing. It is hard to believe you're seeing something filmed 90 years ago.
I also agree with both of you that there is an old world feel to the setting and story. Apart from the use of automobiles, this story is pretty timeless. The street the tramp and the kid live on looks almost European. Perhaps the story was partly inspired by Chaplin's own poor upbringing. Since he wrote, directed, starred and wrote the accompanying music, he certainly must have infused part of himself into the story.
Chaplin was also good at throwing in little jokes, like when he is asked what the baby's name is by someone. He steps out of shot and returns saying, "John". It took me a second to realize that he had to step out to check what sex the baby was before he could answer.
Although I enjoy Chaplin's films, I prefer short silent movies. This one, while far shorter than your average movie today, is about as long a silent movie as I want to see. And even with this one I found my interest starting to wane during the dream sequence. Normally in a movie it is the dialogue that makes me remember it. I like to quote movies that I enjoy. With silent movies though, obviously there's nothing to quote. Fortunately the story is wrapped up soon after the dream ends and in a very satisfying way.
Eric, I'm just surprised you didn't have a comment to make about single mothers in your review!
Photos © Copyright Chaplin - First National (1921)