In which two parents find, lose and reclaim their most precious passenger.
I seem to find with these 1920s films an attraction to iconic actors and influential designs. The Kid merges both of these into a single character, Chaplin’s famous ‘tramp’ who featured in many of his films between 1914 and 1936. Although over a century old, there are probably few people alive in the Western world who wouldn’t recognise the silhouette of the little man or being able to name his creator.
The Kid was Chaplin’s first feature-length film as director (it runs just under an hour). It’s an ambitious comedy-drama that genuinely combines the two – I both laughed and cried at times re-watching the movie. It’s a masterpiece of tone, matching slapstick speed and wit with melancholy story any parent can understand and empathise with.
The plot’s pretty simple and relies on just a few beats to get from start to finish. A single mother attempts to leave her baby in a wealth family’s car but the vehicle is stolen by two criminals who later abandon the child in the street. Chaplin’s tramp finds the baby and despite a few efforts to pass him along ends up caring for him. Five years pass at the tramp and boy, now named John’ make a living breaking people’s windows and selling them replacements.
The authorities try to take John away when he becomes ill and the boy’s mother, now a famous actress, begins to get closer and closer to her long-lost son. Both the Tramp and the mother race to keep John safe from the county who want to send him to the county orphanage.
I said before that I laughed and shed a tear at The Kid and that connection is no mystery. It’s the innocent and grounded comedy of the story that allows the tragedy of a mother and boy separated to hit home. The moment the two are unknowingly reunited for a moment, with the mother painfully thinking about her loss is heart-breaking.
As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky says, writing for the AV Club about the Criterion release of The Kid,
“No director has ever had a better instinct at reaching and holding an emotional note”.
I haven’t seen as many Charlie Chaplin films as I’d like to, but I hope to rectify that over the course of this year. The Kid is a wonderful example of moviemaking and storytelling, using all the techniques at the director’s disposal. Chaplin physical comedy is legendary and well used here, but it’s his acting that sells the relationship with the kid. As a father, it’s gut-wrenching to see him desperately fight three men as they take John away from him.
Chaplin is always worth watching and at less than an hour, there’s really no excuse for skipping one episode of your next binge to experience The Kid.
Let me know what you think by joining the conversation on Twitter.