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The opening title reads: "A comedy with a smile--and perhaps a tear". As she leaves the charity hospital and passes a church wedding, Edna deposits her new baby with a pleading note in a limousine and goes off to commit suicide. The limo is stolen by thieves who dump the baby by a garbage can. Charlie the Tramp finds the baby and makes a home for him. Five years later Edna has become an opera star but does charity work for slum youngsters in hope of finding her boy. A doctor called by Edna discovers the note with the truth about the Kid and reports it to the authorities who come to take him away from Charlie. Before he arrives at the Orphan Asylum Charlie steals him back and takes him to a flophouse. The proprietor reads of a reward for the Kid and takes him to Edna. Charlie is later awakened by a kind policeman who reunites him with the Kid at Edna's mansion. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
rarely has there ever been such a deft mix of wonderful absurdity and (dark) sentiment as here
It's easy to call Charlie Chaplin a genius, but I'll say it once again: the man was a genius, if only at doing a certain particular kind of film. You wouldn't ever see Charlie Chaplin doing a silent horror film, or at least one like out of Germany, or even a big epic that ran Griffith lengths. His artistry was concerned with those who could just about afford the price of a ticket back in the 20s and 30s to see his films and he combined pathos that was incredible and unique in and of its spectrum of humor and compassion. Some may call films like the Kid and even City Lights sentimental, but they may miss the greater picture at work which is that any sentiment is orchestrated and (the usual kicked-around word) manipulated amid the comedic set-ups. Earned sentiment is different than faux sentimentality chucked on to the viewer, and if any case could show this distinction better it would be hard to find a better example then the Kid.
As it stands even at 50 minutes, which was trimmed by Chaplin himself 50 years after its original release and including a new musical score, it's just about a perfectly told tale. It is short in either cut form but its so simple a story to tell that anything else would just likely be padding; even that 'Dreamland' sequence towards the end of the film is crucial and allows for Chaplin to let loose on a wonderful light-and-dark examination of all the major characters in the picture- now with angel wings and devil horns! What it's about, in complete basics, is that a woman leaves her baby in the backseat of a car thinking she won't be able to take care of him, and the baby winds up by chance in an alleyway the Tramp is at, and the Tramp decides to take care of him (he even names him, in one amusing aside, John). Then it cuts to 5 years later, and the two are an intrepid duo as they break and fix windows, eat lots of pancake, and the Tramp nearly gets pummeled by an "Older Brother" of a kid John gets in a fight with. Meanwhile, the mother is now a success, not knowing her child is somewhere- right in front of her nose.
This may sound like a bit of story, but it's told briskly and without a missed beat in editing, and Chaplin's re-edit tightens it to a point where we're mostly with the Kid and the Tramp. Their scenes are everything that Chaplin wants them to be: playful, absurd, cute, and bittersweet to a degree. We know this can't exactly last, but the moment the poor maybe-sick Kid is taken away to the orphanage becomes one of the most tragic (and yet partially triumphant) sequences in the movies. It's in a case like this, where we as the audience tear up, more or less, as the Kid is being carted away crying his eyes out, and then inter-cut with Chaplin's daring dash across the roof-tops to save him, that we see the genius of comedy and tragedy combined and working off each other. This is assisted greatly throughout by child actor Jackie Coogan who may be one of the very best child actors in any film, silent or otherwise; that it's silent adds to the challenge and success of pure pantomime that without fault feels true: even a beat with the Kid playing with toys, an obviously "cute" bit, is great, and up for the task of playing off a quintessential clown like Chaplin.
Featuring some excellent set-pieces just unto themselves (aside from Dreamland there is the fight between Chaplin and the Brother with that belly-laugh part with the repetitive brick-hit to the head, or when Tramp and the Kid stop to sleep for the night at the home and have to sneak around to try and not pay an extra coin), an absolutely beautiful musical track from Chaplin, and excellent performances from all supporting cast (including frequent Chaplin star Edna Purvivance), it's altogether an awe-inspiring feat. To see this or City Lights or Modern Times to an extent is to see ideas and character outlasting far beyond their time and place as something far more valuable to the public consciousness.
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