The Kid

The Kid ★★★★

When I saw THE KID in a revival house in the 1970’s, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the theater.  Yes, the film is a bit heavy-handed with over-the-top symbolism (Christ carrying the cross readily comes to mind), the extended Dreamland sequence seems to come out of nowhere, and the ending is very abrupt.  However, it sent the character of the Tramp in a new direction that would greatly improve the quality of Chaplin’s storytelling.
In previous films, the Tramp was a rough-house survivor who was not afraid to strike back at those who annoyed him (usually by treating him rudely).  His films were extremely fast-paced with a great deal of physical humor.  The series that became known as the Mutual films still had a lot of the knockabout slapstick, but they also started offering commentaries on society as a secondary theme.
THE KID was a full-fledged feature film and it is (for the most part) beautifully crafted.  Chaplin’s “ace in the hole” was 4-year-old Jackie Coogan as the title character.  Chaplin had seen Coogan onstage doing dance routines with his father and thought he would be the perfect child actor.  He was.  Coogan’s work is nothing short of amazing.  Yes, he is employing techniques to draw an emotional response from the audience, but it is astonishing to see a young child have such a flawless command of them.
The social commentary is back, too.  This time, it deals with societal views of unwed mothers (“Dad” isn’t condemned at all), and how children are often seen as an inconvenience.  The Tramp wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of an ideal Father, but he lavishes love on the child and goes to extreme lengths to protect him.
THE KID gives us a view of Chaplin when he is literally right on the cusp of becoming a brilliant feature film Director and Screenwriter.  All of the promise is here.  He does moralize ... and he also provides a lot of heartfelt laughter.  Despite its age, and Chaplin’s adding of a musical track which artificially sped up the action of this silent film even more, it is a fine film and a representative of one of the better silent feature comedies.

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