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The opening title reads: "A comedy with a smile--and perhaps a tear". As she leaves the charity hospital and passes a church wedding, Edna deposits her new baby with a pleading note in a limousine and goes off to commit suicide. The limo is stolen by thieves who dump the baby by a garbage can. Charlie the Tramp finds the baby and makes a home for him. Five years later Edna has become an opera star but does charity work for slum youngsters in hope of finding her boy. A doctor called by Edna discovers the note with the truth about the Kid and reports it to the authorities who come to take him away from Charlie. Before he arrives at the Orphan Asylum Charlie steals him back and takes him to a flophouse. The proprietor reads of a reward for the Kid and takes him to Edna. Charlie is later awakened by a kind policeman who reunites him with the Kid at Edna's mansion. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Charlie Chaplin's first full length feature film, and his biggest success up to that date, is a remarkably heartwarming story , which makes the surprising connection between slapstick comedy and dramatic tragedy. It begins with a woman who's "sin was motherhood," who gives birth to a baby she can't support at a Charity Hospital which is kept pad-locked from the inside. She is forced to abandon it in an alley, and before long Chaplin wanders by and what follows is one of the best sequences of the film, as he is casually strolling by and then, through a series of odd but entirely believable situations, he is unable to get rid of it.
It is no secret that little Jackie Coogan nearly stole the show from Chaplin (who was in top form) playing the little boy at 5 years old. Charlie's life is thrown into turmoil by the unexpected arrival of the baby, but eventually he sort of organizes his life and when the kid gets a little older they make a nice living together, the boy breaking windows and Charlie selling replacements. Soon the police notice so they have to cut and run, because there are other conflicts approaching which will warrant screen time much more than how they make money.
It is interesting to watch the film oscillate back and forth from Chaplin's traditional slapstick comedy and a much more developed, dramatic story. The film is interspersed with pure slapstick and some genuinely moving moments (sometimes simultaneously, if you can believe that), but overall it is a truly heartwarming tale of friendship and family and survival, and it is never once predictable, all the way until the last frame.
There is a quick scene where the kid gets into a fist fight with another little boy, and in between "rounds, " Charlie is rubbing the kid down and congratulating him on fighting so well, and giving him hints for the rest of the fight. Meanwhile, the other kid's brother shows up, a massive oaf of a man who looks more like Frankenstein's monster than anything else. What follows is a pretty funny fight that looks startlingly similar to the fight between Charlie and the town bully in Easy Street. This is a slapstick set-up that is so simple that it could have been thrown in just to take up screen time, were it not for it's direct relevance to the story.
At another point, there is pure slapstick taking place in their little shack of a home, as the 1921 version of Child Protective Services shows up to tear the young boy crying from Jackie's arms. I think this is the only time in any film that I've ever seen genuine, low-brow slapstick so seamlessly combined with a truly sad and heartbreaking incident. This combination, not just here but throughout the film, is The Kid's biggest achievement.
There is a dream sequence near the end of the film that I am really not sure what to think about, although my understanding is that volumes have been written about it's symbolic meaning, both within the movie and in reference to Chaplin's personal life. And speaking of which, supposedly there were some legal issues involving money and divorce for which Chaplin sped the film stock to Utah for editing. I don't know which story to believe, that it was because of Chaplin's painful divorce or because he was unhappy with his salary (I would bet it's a little of both), but the film is here and I guess ultimately that's all that matters.
In the five or six times that I've seen The Kid, I am always a little uncomfortable with that kiss that Charlie gives the kid when he finally rescues him from the back of that truck, if only because I am conscious that he is not the tramp's real son, either on screen or off. Then again, I am looking at it with 21st century eyes. Some of Shirley Temple's early films are also a little disturbing to me, although for not quite the same reasons.
By this time, Chaplin was fully on the road to his career in full length feature films, and after 36 short comedies for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios and a dozen or so more for Essanay and Vagabond (along with a few assorted others), Charlie was fast on the way to establishing himself as one of the greatest stars in the history of the cinema.
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