Reviews | Written by Nigel Watson 16/10/2015


This is Chaplin’s first venture into feature film production and it marks out his ambition to be more than a slapstick comedian. Here we get the 53-minute-long 1971 re-release, rather than the original 68-minute-long version that was originally released in January 1921, and promoted as ‘6 reels of joy’.

It is a simple story of The Kid (Jackie Coogan) who is abandoned by his mother (Edna Purviance) at birth and lands up in the care of The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin). Living in a poor and tough part of town, The Tramp uses all his ingenuity to look after and feed The Kid. When The Kid is 5-years-old, he is sent to throw rocks at windows, and minutes after they are smashed The Tramp miraculously turns up to offer his window replacement service.

Their scam works well until The Kid falls ill, and a doctor realises that The Tramp is not the boy’s father and informs the authorities. In response a couple of men are sent to take The Kid into ‘care’.

The film is a Dickensian view of poverty and society, where ‘care’ constitutes being taken to an impersonal institution, and when The Kid and The Tramp escape to a flophouse, we are shown its depressing conditions where the poorest exist.

Fortunately, The Kid’s mother ‘whose sin was Motherhood’ has in the meantime become a rich star, and is now in a position to look for her abandoned child. The music, composed by Chaplin, underlines the despair of separation and the joy of a mother recovering her child from crime and poverty.

The film emphasises the importance of motherhood and the need for a child to be loved. This reflects elements of Chaplin’s own life where he was brought up by his mother in poor conditions, and the recent death of his 3-day-old son Norman Spencer Chaplin on 10 July 1919. This tragedy inspired him to start production of The Kid in August 1919, and he lavished 9 months on the project in the midst of dealing with a bitter divorce from his first wife and Norman’s mother, Mildred Harris.

Whilst The Kid shows the traumas of childhood, and the imagining by Charlie of how Norman Spencer might have turned out, it also features a dream sequence near the end of the film. This has The Tramp transported to a fairyland, where his friends and enemies play harps and have angel wings, and more significantly includes the young, innocent and ‘flirty angel’ 12-year-old Lita Grey, whom he married 4 years later.

Chaplin’s story met with huge success and justified his belief that he could unite comedy with drama. The weaving of autobiographical details and his mastery of the film medium in The Kid, shows Chaplin transforming into a world class auteur.

Special Features: Introduction by David Robinson / Outtakes / Recording the new score / Trailers



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