Review by Robert T. Trate
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Carl Miller
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Running time: 53 minutes
Year of release: 1921
When the Kid (Jackie Coogan) reaches out for the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), as he is about to be taken away to an orphanage, you can feel it. There is something magical that transpires on screen, in that moment, that captures pure cinema at its finest. Whether it is Coogan and Chaplin or the the Kid and the Tramp (the line between the two has become blurred over time), we feel their heart wrenching sorrow as they are about to be torn apart forever. It is this moment that allows The Kid to endure to this day.
Charlie Chaplin, up to this point in his motion picture career, had only made shorts. They were quick, cheap and thus easy to turn over for a profit. Chaplin wanted to do something bigger and with heart. His studio, for which he was under contract, only wanted light and funny. This turn of events made one of the most popular stars in the world into one of the biggest. Chaplin went out on his own and crafted the story for The Kid in the wake of the death of his own first born child. Criterion Collection has selected it for its 799th film and released a new Blu-ray with bells and whistles that will make any film aficionado open his/her wallet.
The Kid is a classic. In fact, in many respects, it is the very definition of a classic film. Chaplin spent over a year on the film, refining and tuning it to find the perfect balance between comedy and drama. This process would reflect in all of his features from this point on. So much so that he re-visited the film in 1972 for a re-release. The Tramp finds a newborn baby boy in an alley. After trying to find it a home more suitable than one can provide, the Tramp finds a note pinned to the baby that asks to please take care of the child. At that moment, he is hooked and 5 years later we see the Tramp making do and being the best father possible.
What works so well in The Kid is the chemistry between Jackie Coogan and Chaplin. The Kid is almost a cherub-like version of the Tramp, only with baggie clothes and an oversized cap instead of a suit and bowler. The two are a formidable team as they con the residents of the town with their game of window installer and vandal. Outside of that, again, we see two actors that convey so much with just their eyes and body language. In the era of silent pictures, this was the key to making and having an impression with the audience.
With a film such as this, there is so much history and ground breaking techniques that the industry has copied it or imitated it for nearly a century. The Criterion Collection release is packed with a plethora of special features that enlighten and entertain. The history of the film is one thing, but to learn that Jackie Coogan’s career would not only lead him to play Uncle Fester on The Addams Family, but shape the future of child actors everywhere, is amazing. Sadly, the man was also surrounded by so much tragedy.
Deleted scenes are always a great hook for a film lover and Criterion enclosed three deleted scenes, completely restored for The Kid. We see what brings the Woman (Edna Purviance) to abandon her baby to begin with. Not necessary for the story, but Chaplin frames the scene so that it may have been shot to help the audience sympathize more with the Woman. Why did she go back for her baby, outside of the obvious? Chaplin shot another scene that really guilts the Woman, thus getting her to return to the baby. Finally, the third scene allows the Man (Carl Miller) to have more of a presence in the film. You can see why it is cut, but one has to wonder if the Woman and the Man may have reconciled and been married. Who was she living with at the end?
Criterion Blu-rays are well worth the price, but I will be honest in saying I always do keep my eye open for the sales on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. This release of The Kid is stunning with the clarity and precision. It is a film that has never looked better. How many films can you say that about that are nearly 100 years old?