Classic Movie Review: The Kid (1921)

TitleThe Kid
Release Date: February 6, 1921
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: Charles Chaplin Productions

Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp character were already film superstars, but this is the first Chaplin’s feature length film as a director and also the first time the Tramp appeared in a feature.  The movie starts with a bit of melodramatic social realism as a woman (Edna Purviance) leaves a charity hospital with her newborn baby, remembers her lover who abandoned her, and decides to leave the baby in the backseat of a car in front of a mansion. She reconsiders, but before she can go back for the baby, thieves steal the car and drive it into the city (with no baby seat, aigh!).  When the thieves discover the baby, they leave it on the sidewalk where it’s found by the Tramp.  He initially is reluctant to have anything to do with the baby, but finally decides to adopt the kid as his own son.

Early scenes show the Tramp putting the baby in a little hammock and the baby just being cute doing baby things. It’s a remarkable bit of humanity on a film from nearly a century ago, and it made me think that the baby would be 100 years old if still alive.  So I looked it up and discovered that the baby actor Silas Hathaway IS still alive (and turned 100 in March).  This was Hathaway’s only film but what a great part to play in film history!

Of course, The Kid is most famous for introducing Jackie Coogan who became Hollywood’s first child star as a result of this movie.  Coogan’s kid is the Tramp’s accomplice in their semi-legal activities, and they have a lot of cute father/son moments, and have good set pieces with the Kid standing up to the neighborhood bully and the Tramp having to fight the bully’s much bigger brother.

Social services discover that the Kid is not the legal son of The Tramp and they have to go on the run to avoid being separated. Meanwhile, the mother has become a wealthy celebrity in the intervening 5 years and visits the neighborhood to perform charity for poor kids.  She is inadvertently reunited with the Kid.  There are heartbreaking scenes where the Tramp has to chase down the car taking away the Kid, but in the end, all three – mother, Tramp, and Kid – are reunited for a happy ending.  There’s a weird part just before the end where the Tramp dreams of angels and devils, but it’s really the only diversion from a sweet and heartbreaking movie.

Apparently Chaplin and Coogan spent a lot of time doing fun things together off the set so the close relationship they have on screen is for real.

Rating: ***1/2