The Kid (1921)

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The tramp finds an orphan infant in an alley and raises him as his own. By the age of 5, the kid is learning how to swindle and survive on the streets. When it is discovered that he is an orphan the authorities begin to take matters into their own hands and come to take the child from the tramp.

Icy Abandonment

The Kid starts off with a woman, Edna Perviance, abandoning her child shortly after leaving the hospital. She does this by dropping the child in the back of an affluent person’s car and running away. She soon regrets her decision and goes back to get the child. However, while she was gone the car is stolen and the thieves drop the baby in an alley. The kid quickly goes from the warmth of his mother’s arms to the dirt.

This is where the tramp, Chaplin, finds the child, in the dirt. The tramp rescues the child from abandonment and this quickly leads to a comedic bit where the tramp attempts to pawn the child off on anyone else. A persistent and ever-present police officer keeps catching the tramp trying to pawn off the child, out of context of course. Thus, leading the tramp to take the child home and raise him.

Character Development

The story jumps five years into the future and we see the two of them have become a great team. The chemistry between the tramp and the kid, played by Jackie Coogan, is endearing. The two of them care for one another and are crafty when they “work the streets”.

The transition from the tramp reluctantly bringing the kid into his life to him fully embracing him is smooth and believable. The way they interact is well choreographed on both a comedic level as well as on an emotional level. You can tell that they care for one another. This can be seen best in the mundane moments, like: when they make breakfast, or get ready to leave for the day.

I was also a little surprised when the welfare officers came and tried to take the child. It makes sense as a plot device and I get that the doctor found a sick child in meager living conditions. However, it felt a little off that the doctor comes to the aid of someone clearly looking out for the child and only really has an issue with the situation when he finds out he is not the birth father. If that is the real issue for the doctor, then why would sending the child to an orphanage or foster care be any different. It would not have stood out so much had the doctor been more concerned with the conditions of the apartment instead of the blood relation.

Dramedy

I did not realize going into this film that it is considered one of the first dramatic comedies. I knew that Chaplin was one of the earliest champions of the drama-comedy genre’s, but never looked closely at which film blended them enough to be considered the first. The Kid clearly has an even balance of comedy and drama throughout. It is not a comedy that has some dramatic, or serious, aspects to it. There were several predecessors like that. So I can see why this one stands out.

I will take a closer look at films around this time though, to see if any others stand out.

Real Life Tragedy

Charlie Chaplin had his newborn son die just a few weeks before production started on The Kid. That timing is too close together for the idea behind the film to be tied to the loss of the child. However, Chaplin clearly had the fuel to act the part. I can’t imagine loosing a child, especially an infant. I also can’t imagine losing a child like that and then immediately starring in a movie about losing a child that you also wrote and is your feature length directorial debut. That is an overwhelming situation to be in and clearly Chaplin took it in stride.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

Directed by: Charlie Chaplin

Cinematography: Roland Totheroh

Written by: Charlie Chaplin

Editing By: Charlie Chaplin

Music Conducted by: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, and Carl Miller.

Runtime: 54m

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Distributed by: First National


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