The Kid

The Kid ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Smiling and Tearing
(originally posted on IMDb 29 August 2005)

"The Kid" is a powerfully emotional and wonderfully hilarious motion picture and was a tremendous breakthrough in Charlie Chaplin's oeuvre. He hadn't filled a film so fully with pathos since "The Vagabond" (1916), and then it was in a very limited way--subject to the confines of two reels. And, "Sunnyside" (1919) was a failure. The feature length of "The Kid" also allows Chaplin to elaborate and refine the gags, pranks and set pieces, and with the support of Jackie Coogan, it's one of his funniest comedies.

The parent-child relationship has proved potential as sentimental entertainment, and, for me, not many have neared Chaplin's exploitation of that formula in "The Kid". The sequence where they take the kid, for a workhouse, away from the Tramp is probably the most powerful and endearing tearjerker moment in the film--or maybe of all film. In addition to Chaplin and Coogan, Edna Purviance is also quite effective in the dramatic side of the picture. Furthermore, Chaplin and cinematographer Roland Totheroh's photography had by then improved vastly over their work at Mutual, and Chaplin was already an eccentric perfectionist, but the musical score added to the 1971 release, composed by Chaplin, taken from Tchaikovsky, gives the sentimental parts its most verve.

Of the slapstick, one of my favorite scenes involves the Tramp in fear of a bully. It's reminiscent of his Mutual short "Easy Street" (1917), which is made especially clear when the bully bends a lamppost with one punch. There are many other great moments of humorous pantomime and farce in this film. Yet, "The Kid" is much more than that, which makes it such a breakthrough; the slapstick fills the plot, and there is more of a developed plot here than in Chaplin's previous work. This was the beginning of the Tramp as the sympathetic, pitiful hero, as well as clown, that's so recognizable and beloved to this day.

Moreover, the dream sequence is an ingenious plot device; it adds dimensionally to the narrative and asserts its themes while delaying the inevitable conclusion of the outer narrative to poignant effect. It's also funny in a silly way. It's somewhat analogous to the outer reality story, although with much ambiguity. I wasn't always sure Chaplin was making any clear point, such as with the Christ image earlier in the film, but that seems unimportant; "The Kid" affects the emotions and isn't especially aimed at engaging the mind. At six reels, with more sets and a developed plot, this film was already an expansion compared to Chaplin's previous work; the dream sequence satisfyingly expands the narrative depth, thus making "The Kid" Chaplin's first complete feature.

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