The Kid (1921)


Charlie Chaplin made the leap to feature films writing, producing, directing and scoring The Kid, in which Chaplin’s famous Tramp character finds and cares for an orphaned child (Jackie Coogan). While The Kid doesn’t quite escape the episodic quality of Chaplin’s short films, it’s got a connecting throughline where it counts the most — the heart. At first the Tramp tries many ways to make the orphaned baby someone else’s problem. But failing to pass the buck, he reluctantly takes the baby in and raises him for five years. Some of the funniest sequences involve the Tramp teaching the kid his tricks of trade — that is, scamming people out of their money. But the film takes a more heart-tugging turn when the authorities try to remove the kid from the Tramp’s care.

Chaplin and Coogan have great chemistry together, making all too easy for us to invest in their surrogate family bond. Their scenes together are the best, including an elaborate street fight between the pair and a couple of fist-ready brothers they dominate in comic fashion. It deserves a slightly stronger ending, but The Kid is remarkably modern in its pacing and timeless in its emotional appeal. Maybe it’s because the film is without any dialogue that it manages to avoid many sentimental pitfalls (like characters stating the all-too obvious). Or maybe it’s because Chaplin’s humor is always on the ready to puncture any overly-saccharine moment. Either way, it still holds up as satisfying entertainment one hundred years later. With Edna Purviance.

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