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Archive for September 4th, 2015

thekid1

by Ed Howard

Charlie Chaplin’s first feature film, The Kid, opens with what might well be a statement of purpose for the master silent comic as he embarked on his feature career. The film’s first title card — indeed, one of the very few titles, and maybe the wordiest, in a sparsely titled movie — introduces The Kid as, “a picture with a smile — and perhaps, a tear.” That combination of humor and pathos, already apparent in many of Chaplin’s previous shorts, would become the driving force for his subsequent features, and is already fully in flower in this sweet, sentimental film about Chaplin’s tramp discovering an abandoned child (Jack Coogan) and raising him as his own.

The child is abandoned by a woman (Edna Purviance) “whose sin was motherhood,” a title card informs, and through a series of mishaps it’s the poor tramp who finds the baby. Notably, Chaplin eases into the sentiment, as his tramp is at first anything but caring for the little tyke: he tries to dump the baby on several unsuspecting passers-by before getting stuck with it, sitting on the curb with the kid in his lap, and in a hilarious/unsettling bit of pantomime, he briefly considers dropping the baby down a sewer drain. It’s easy to forget that Chaplin’s tramp, so often considered the embodiment of comic sentimentality, started out as a rough-and-ready scrapper in his early Keystone shorts, and there are still traces of those more unsentimental beginnings here, in that moment with the sewer drain and the later scene where he fights with a burly fellow bum.

In any event, the tramp thinks better of discarding the kid, and Chaplin cuts to five years later, when the pair have become a de facto family. Coogan, who plays the kid as a five-year-old, is a great screen partner for Chaplin, a miniature version of the tramp, shrugging and shuffling in his oversized and raggy clothes, joining in with Chaplin’s petty crimes. The pair create a ramshackle domesticity in the tramp’s small flat, where the bedsheets are full of holes and they cheat the gas meter by reusing the same quarter over and over again. They go out together to “work” by having the kid break windows with rocks, whereupon Chaplin ambles up, not-so-coincidentally carrying a rack of glass panes ready to repair the damage for a fee. This sequence leads to some charming interplay with a beat cop who casually foils the pair’s plans by simply strolling up and looking on suspiciously. Best of all is the scene where Chaplin, without realizing it, pulls his scam at the cop’s own house, and is still there, flirting with the policeman’s wife, when the cop returns and peers out the window above their heads, scowling down at them. (more…)

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