"A comedy with a smile--and perhaps a tear"
Charlie Chaplin's first self-produced feature film, The Kid, is a tender and sweet tale that once again manages to balance those emotional moments with a great amount of slapstick comedy. The master of pantomime surprised me here by taking a step out of the spotlight and letting it shine on the young newcomer, Jackie Coogan, who steals every scene he is in. Coogan is extremely cute and he held his own next to Chaplin in the comedic department as well. As the title suggests, the main character in this film is the kid who has given the character of the tramp something to live and fight for. The scene that stands out for me is the one where the social workers show up and try to take away his adopted son from him. That scene is a real tearjerker, but at the same time there are some excellent moments of physical comedy that balance them out. The editing was also very well done giving the action scenes some believable effects as Chaplin runs through the roofs to rescue the kid. I actually watched Chaplin's re-edited 1971 version of The Kid that includes an original score and is 15 minutes shorter than the original, but I really enjoyed it and found it moving.
This silent film written by Chaplin opens with a sobbing unwed mother (Edna Purviance) walking out of a charity hospital with a baby in arms. Along the way she spots a fancy car in front of a mansion and decides to leave the baby hidden in the back seat with a note asking for whoever finds the baby to take care of him. As she walks away a couple of thieves unexpectedly steal the car and once they discover the baby in the back seat they dump him off in an alley. After having second thoughts for what she did, the mother decides to return to the mansion but once she arrives the owners tell her that the car has been stolen. Meanwhile, the tramp (Charlie Chaplin) stumbles across the baby as he is passing by the alley. At first he tries to get rid of him, but eventually he decides to keep the baby and adopts him. Five years have passed and we are now introduced to the tramp and his kid (Jackie Coogan). He is working as a glazier, and business seems to be going well thanks to his kid who helps him out by smashing the neighbor's windows. The child's real mother has become a famous Opera singer and continues to feel haunted for abandoning her son. She does charity work in the same neighborhood where the tramp and the kid live. The tramp and his kid have overcome many obstacles together, but when the boy becomes ill new trouble arises and it could separate the two forever.
The Kid might be almost a hundred years old, but it is still a fascinating watch. It has a great amount of heart and it feels fresh thanks to the tender and sweet story. Chaplin's films are a delight to watch and there is something powerful in the way he portrays his message without using dialogue. His films are told through action and his physical performance is always impressive. In the Kid, Chaplin has found a great sidekick in Coogan, who makes the film all that more tender. I wasn't a huge fan of the dream sequence which felt a bit out of place, but the rest of the film was really a delight. The Kid is a special film and one that cemented Chaplin's status as the best producer, director, writer, and actor during the silent film era. It also has a touching father and son narrative that despite being simple reaches for the heart. It's a beautiful film with a perfect running time for a silent film.