Britton’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alfred Hitchcock was said to have said that he wanted to make films that, even if there wasn't any dialogue in it, his viewers would understand what was going on throughout the film's runtime. I often question if that's even possible, I'm unsure if certain films could be understandable just by watching pantomime. Could films like 12 Angry Men, A Few Good Men, or Locke be just as great by using physical movement as much as it is by its sharply written dialogue?
While silent films have mainly become a delicacy for aficionados nowadays, they were actually quite popular in their day, and none were more so than Chaplin. As a child, I was quite taken with Chaplin's physical comedy and would watch many clips of his best moments on the internet. I would even mimic his famous Tramp walk even up into my teenaged years, but I didn't realize just how thoughtful, emotional, and even profound that he could be until I was older, and no where it this more clear than with The Kid, my favorite of his films and my favorite silent film.
I often like to say that Chaplin is the Charles Dickens of cinema, and it's true in more ways than one. Both were working class chaps who rose through the ranks in order to become some of the most beloved talents of their day, both had a keen social awareness and wit that keeps their works alive in the modern age, and both knew how to entertain their audiences while also not being afraid to be intelligent and thoughtful. Though the irony isn't lost in the fact that Dickens predominantly used words to express the way that he viewed the world, while Chaplin used pantomime as well as the visual medium of filmmaking to express his.
The Kid is a rather straight-forward story, with Chaplin's famous character The Tramp taking on a young apprentice, and with that we get a deeply felt, heart warming story about an odd duo attempting to make their way in the world, and a strong bond and chemistry between Chaplin and co-star Jackie Coogan which would birth one of the most touching sequences ever to be put in a film, and one that's caused me to choke up from its sheer earnestness.
Despite The Kid's emotional sensitivity and appeals to pathos, The Kid is also a light hearted, even delightful film. Chaplin was an entertainer first, and his humor is often uproarious and constantly rolling along. His mastery of physical comedy and slapstick, along side with a tender exploration of poverty and human connection, brings a nicely balanced story, and one that proves to be entertaining as it is reflective. Chaplin's satire is vigorous, biting, and self aware, but he never stoops into cynicism or losing faith in mankind's goodness.
Chaplin's skill with using physical movement and visual storytelling to convey pathos is second to none. While most silent film stars of the time mainly used the medium for light entertainment, or to spread the occasional revisionist propaganda, but Chaplin was one of the first who actually used the medium of film to his advantage and explore more difficult, challenging topics. Like Griffith, he had the foresight to see that film could be much more than mere entertainments (though without the racism). Chaplin was a man who wanted to make the world as bright as it could be, he was one who wasn't afraid to embrace hope without stooping into escapism or overt melodramatics, he was a man who made it his life's mission to make the world as good and beautiful as it could be. Chaplin will always be the eternal optimist, undaunted by cynicism or pessimism.
With The Kid, Chaplin showed the world what he could truly do, with all restraints off, and that he wasn't just a one trick funny man. I'm sure that there are other great silent comedies out there, though whether any of them will ever beat Chaplin, I remain in doubt.