"The Kid" was released in 1921, at the pinnacle of the Silent era, when emotions came to screen through looks and body language, when "we didn't need dialog, we had faces". And if there's one film where Charlie Chaplin's face oddly illuminates the screen, it's definitely "The Kid".
Sure, many fans would argue that "City Lights" is Chaplin's masterpiece but something is too perfect, too masterfully directed, it was made during the talking era, Chaplin was in his 40's and had more experience, while "The Kid" features a more youthful director, It belongs to a whole other era, and has the historical feel of a Mark Twain or Charles Dickens novel, which is not surprising when you consider that the movie is chronologically closer to these classics
Indeed, in 1921, Chaplin was 32, Hitchcock 22, Brando wasn't even born, discovering "The Kid" is like turning the pages of a dusty yellow-paged historical book, one eye is watching the film, while the other discovers a period. And I don't know if I'm the only one, but there's something in the setting, the location that makes the film look even older. For all I saw, the movie could have been set in the early century, and considering the timing of the film, maybe this feeling has been deliberately accentuated by Chaplin, himself. The film was made in a difficult personal time, when he'd just lost his son after his birth. There was a great wound in Chaplin's heart and a movie evoking childhood was the best way to exorcise his inner demons, and his discovery of a very young gifted child named Jackie Coogan the perfect encouragement.
The context of "The Kid" is crucial to analyze and comprehend the personal motives of Chaplin beneath the simple desire to make a movie. Chaplin was a successful comedian at that time, which is even more impressive considering his seven-year experience, a short time but enough to create an icon, the Little Tramp, an immediately recognizable character that put a face in a rather young art named Cinema. Chaplin's story is also the perfect illustration of the American Dream and I'm sure that he felt privileged for having gone from a difficult childhood in a poor London district to Hollywood fame ... and maybe somewhere deeply in his heart, he felt obliged to let this part of himself having an occasion to shine, maybe he knew he was the only one who could direct himself in a more serious tone, and maybe the weight of the past was the little flame that ignited his desire to be a film-maker.
"The Emigrant" in 1917 was like the first step back into Chaplin's past, inspired by his own experience. The movie doesn't feature many emotional moments probably because the emigration carries a sort of hope for a better future, and leaving the motherland wasn't synonym of sadness, but the emotions were there, beyond the slapstick and the comedy, and waiting for another step back, to finally explode in an emotional firework, which directly transports us to Chaplin's past. He who grew up without a father, and started working at an early age, he who learned entertainment for survival more than for a living, before it cemented his talent, he needed to dedicate a film to what made Chaplin Chaplin. And this is how "The Kid" was made, and for the first time, Chaplin would become more than a simple clown, and get all the respect he needed from his peers, as a gifted film-maker. He could finally make his first masterpiece "The Gold Rush", but "The Kid" was this necessary last breath before taking the big dive.
Many aspects of "The Kid" highlight Chaplin's past, and the level of pathos depicted in the introduction will disconcert many fans who expected good laughs : a woman abandons a child, expecting him to be adopted by a rich family, until funny yet hazardous circumstances put the child into the Tramp's arms. But what strikes the most is the level of maturity from Chaplin who, despite the archetypal situations, didn't make the gesture as spontaneous as it could have been, the mother of the illegitimate son is obviously devoured by guilt, as is the father, a nice-looking fellow, and a sign that Chaplin doesn't hold any grief against his father. These things happen, and we shouldn't feel sorry, as it contributed to the creation of one of the greatest early cinematic duos : the Tramp and the Kid.
In every aspect, the Kid is Chaplin's alter ego : he's smart, tender, funny, sensitive
and more than anything extremely convincing. We've seen so many child performances since 1921 to get a definitive opinion on what a great one is, and Jackie Coogan is one of the best, if not the best, almost stealing the show from the King of Comedy, and that the kid didn't become as much a star as Chaplin, is one of cinema's cruelest ironies. The chemistry between the two characters is genuinely authentic, and it takes its highlight at one irresistible emotional scene. I surrendered to tears when I saw the poor little kid crying, while the movie showed one of the rarest and most intense close-ups on Chaplin's face : his devastated look and his eyes suggesting an icy blueness as to incarnate the cold cruelty of a world that would allow the worst to happen, and whatever inhabits the Tramp's heart is communicated through an emotional score composed by Chaplin himself.
Chaplin, like Disney for animation, handled drama with the same strength as for comedy, the necessary tears for a movie mostly made of joy, fun, cheers, and even some dreamy escapism allowing a self-reflexive approach of the magic of childhood. "The Kid" is not perfect, but it's a masterpiece of sincerity, of humanity that only Chaplin could have made and embodied through a magnificent music. If not his best, it's his most defining film
5 out of 7 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.