ClassicFlix (Teen Scene) – Review #16: The Kid (1921)

From March 2015 to April 2017, I was writing the monthly Teen Scene column for the website ClassicFlix. My objective was to promote classic films among teenagers and young adults. Due to the establishing of a new version of the website, it’s now more difficult to access to the old version and read the reviews. But, I’m allowed to publish my reviews on my blog 30 days after they had been published on ClassicFlix! So, I decided to do so as you could have an easy access to them. If you are not a teenager, it doesn’t matter! I’m sure you can enjoy them just the same! My sixteenth review was for the 1921’s classic The Kid directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. Enjoy!

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Everybody has heard of Charlie Chaplin, and if you haven’t you’re probably living on another planet or you’re too young to read. Chaplin is known as the most famous entertainer of all time with a name celebrated by all generations. As for his films, the sad truth is not everybody who knows Chaplin, the actor, has necessarily seen his finished products.

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Everybody should see at least one Chaplin film before the age of 15, at least. Once you see one, you’ll be willing to watch all the rest because it’s hard not to fall in love with Chaplin’s filmography. But the question is “which one should I choose?” Well, Charlie Chaplin’s films are all great, so there isn’t a good or bad answer. However, it might be a good idea to start with a silent, as it is more representative of Chaplin’s career and Chaplin himself.

Chaplin’s films are probably the best introduction to silent cinema and to classic films altogether. Charlie Chaplin didn’t believe in talkies (despite the fact he directed great ones like The Great Dictator and Limelight), which is why his silent films became so important in cinematic history.

Let’s start though with an introduction to The Kid, Chaplin’s first feature film, released in 1921. This one has all the ingredients of a typical Chaplin: it’s funny, sad, touching, ingenious and brilliant. Indeed, the film is introduced to us with the following inter-title: “A picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear.” On its release, the film was a commercial success; the second box office success of the year behind The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Like many of Chaplin’s films, The Kid tells a simple story full of meaning. A young woman (Edna Purviance) has had a child she can’t take care and abandons him in a car. The car is stolen by two thieves, who soon discover the baby. They get rid of the child by putting him in an alley. Not long after, a little tramp (Charlie Chaplin) passes by and discovers the baby. He tries to get rid of him too, but without any success. He takes him home to take care of him. Five years later, the little boy named John (Jackie Coogan) still lives with his adoptive father with whom he shares an adorable complicity. The boy’s biological mother has become a great and successful comedienne but is looking for the son she regrets abandoning, while John’s biological father (Carl Miller) has become a famous painter.

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One of the main reasons why Chaplin was such a legend is he didn’t only direct and acts in his films. He also produced, wrote, composed the music and, in some cases (for The Kid), did the editing on them. He was a man of multi-talents who succeeded at everything.

Chaplin the actor is the one we know in the film: the little tramp who is certainly not rich, but knows how to enjoy life. He is a character we would like to be friends with, who makes us laugh and reaches our heart in every possible way. Even while he amuses us with physical gags, there’s still a beautiful simplicity in his acting. Everything seems perfectly calculated because what we like about him is how ingenious he is. He doesn’t need to buy anything; he knows how to create gadgets to satisfy his needs like the blanket that becomes a dressing gown or the chair with a hole that becomes a toilet for the baby.

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The Kid was Jackie Coogan’s second film, but the one that made him a star. At the age of six, little Jackie started a career as a child actor thanks to Chaplin. In The Kid, Coogan plays one of the most adorable children of movie history. He is clever, hilarious, and will certainly make you cry or, at least, have a tear. He is a fast runner; he bakes crepes, and has such a cute face. Who wouldn’t want to adopt him?

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Chaplin and Coogan’s complicity in the film is contagious. They are not only a father and son, but the best friends and partner in crimes. For example, our little tramp is a glazier, but to makes sure he has work John breaks people’s window with a rock! They are each other’s favorite person and we don’t need much to know it.

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Edna Purviance, who plays the mother, was one of Chaplin’s most famous co-stars. Her acting in The Kid is a delight. She is able to transmit our emotions in an efficient way, without over-acting. Silent actors often exaggerated their facial expressions to transmit emotion, but it’s not the case with Purviance in The Kid.

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Interesting fact: the film also features Lita Grey, Chaplin’s second wife, in an uncredited role.

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The Kid allows you to see the problems and joys inherent in different societal classes. The Tramp and little John are poor but happy. As for John’s mother, she’s become rich but misses her son. The mother wants her son back, of course, but that doesn’t make her the villain of the story. On the contrary, she is full of tenderness and kindness. We discover there is good and bad everywhere. Even if Chaplin’s films tend to be sad, there is always hope somewhere. Chaplin rarely leaves us in misery.

The Kid is also a film about friendship that shows us even if you don’t have many people in your life, so long as you have one person who is important, you’ll be happy.

The Kid’s music is composed by Charlie Chaplin based on a theme from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony. However, like many films of the time the score varies depending on the versions. I had the pleasure to hear some popular Scott Joplin ragtime in my version, such as “The Cascades,” “The Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.” However, Chaplin’s musical creation is more efficient for some scenes. It is a bit strange to hear the joyful “Maple Leaf Rag” during the saddest scene of the film.

There is far more to say about The Kid but I don’t want to reveal everything and spoil your fun. You’ll have to discover the rest by viewing and enjoying the film yourself.

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