Tuesday, 16 February 2016

THE KID - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Charlie Chaplin's immortal tear-wrencher on Criterion

The Kid (1921)
Dir. Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Tom Wilson, Carl Miller

Review By Greg Klymkiw

When a poverty-stricken unwed mother (Edna Purviance) is spurned by the father (Carl Miller) of her newborn baby, she decides, in desperation, to abandon the child so it will have a chance at a better life. She doesn't place it on any old doorstep, however, but finds a fancy car in front of a huge mansion. She places her babe in swaddling clothes gently in the backseat and forces herself to leave before she changes her mind. 

Unfortunately, she does change her mind, but her timing couldn't be worse. Upon her return, she discovers that the car's been stolen by two thugs. Upon discovering the baby, they abandon it in the streets, smack dab in the middle of a slum.

Who then happens upon the child?

Who else?

A funny-looking little tramp (Charlie Chaplin). Yup, this kid is going to have a very interesting life. If you're abandoned in a slum, there's probably no better surrogate Dad to bring you up and teach you the ways of the dirty, mean streets.

And so begins The Kid.

It's such a terrific picture, I have three fervent proclamations:

1. If The Kid doesn't have you squirting Old Faithful-style geysers of tears from thine ocular orbs, releasing Niagara Falls-like streams of mucous via your nasal cavities and most importantly, weeping (in the parlance of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now) "like some grandmother", I hereby charge that you are not human.

2. If The Kid doesn't have you howling with laughter until you bruise your knees from slapping them so hard, shred your throat until it's raw and bleeding from your mirth-filled shrieks and coming close to soiling yourself with heavier matter "down below", I furthermore charge that you have no sense of humour.

3. If you are a parent and have not yet screened The Kid for your children, you deserve to be reported to a Child Welfare Agency in your jurisdiction.

Charlie Chaplin's The Kid is that great. It's also technically his first feature length film and by 1921 when it was first released, it was, at 53-minutes, his longest film. Prior to this he'd made innumerable one-reelers and two reelers for companies like Keystone, Essanay, Mutual and First National but needing more creative control, the ability to financially back his own work and generate even wider releases, he joined forces with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in 1919 and created the distribution company United Artists.

Lots of laughs, tears of sadness, tears of joy,
All of it, sublime
The Kid was his first film for United Artists and it proved to be a major box-office success. It's not surprising why. Chaplin pulled out all the stops on this one by tackling such issues as the place of women in society, child poverty and homelessness, but he did it with humour, sentiment and considerable aplomb, crafting a film that hit things the "everyman" could relate to, but wrapping it up in a bow that could provide hope that the impossible could happen, that dreams beyond one's wildest dreams could, in fact, come true.

Offering people hope is certainly not the worst thing an artist can do and with The Kid, Chaplin doled it out like some philanthropic madman serving free ice cream to poor kids in the slums.

However, before we (and the characters) get to experience hope, Chaplin puts us through a major ringer. There are, of course, plenty of laughs as the tramp and cute-as-a-button 5-year-old (Jackie Coogan) pull a variety of scams, always barely escaping the watchful eye of a beat cop (Tom Wilson). The funniest of these scams has the kid hurling rocks through windows and the tramp conveniently showing up as a repairman to fix them up.

But then, we get the tears.

Illness, orphanages and overall heartbreak follow. How can it not? This is Chaplin, after all. As a baby, the kid was wrenched from his mother, and now, as a little boy, he is wrenched from the surrogate Dad who loves him.

Chaplin creates a cruel and unfair world that the poor and disenfranchised are forced to live in. Chances are good that he drew considerable inspiration from his own childhood and, as it always did, these personal elements add considerably to this film (and so many others). His filmmaking mastery is already prevalent in this early work and whether he generates either humour or sadness, the result is sublime.

And yes, there is also hope. That might be the most sublime element of all.


The Kid is one of the best Criterion Collection Blu-Rays in years. It features a new 4K digital restoration of Charlie Chaplin’s 1972 rerelease version of the film, featuring an original score by Chaplin, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray; a new audio commentary featuring Chaplin historian Charles Maland; Jackie Coogan: The First Child Star, a new video essay by Chaplin historian Lisa Haven; A Study in Undercranking, a new program featuring silent-film specialist Ben Model; interviews with Coogan and actor Lita Grey Chaplin; excerpted audio interviews with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh and film distributor Mo Rothman; deleted scenes and titles from the original 1921 version of The Kid; “Charlie” on the Ocean, a 1921 newsreel documenting Chaplin’s first return trip to Europe; footage of Chaplin conducting his score for The Kid; Nice and Friendly, a 1922 silent short featuring Chaplin and Coogan, presented with a new score by composer Timothy Brock, a whack of trailers; and an essay by film scholar Tom Gunning.