Review: The Kid (1921)

chaplin_the_kid

Oh, you Little Tramp, you!

Written By: Charles Chaplin
Directed By: Charles Chaplin

Whenever I sit down to watch a Charlie Chaplin silent film, I do make a distinction between his silent and talkie films, I always have a gut reaction. It has nothing to do with the film itself, whether it is The Kid, The Gold Rush or Modern Times. The reaction is to the Little Tramp. When he walks into frame for the first time I can’t help but laugh, he is immediately funny without committing a single funny act. That is the type of reaction his character engenders in the audience, because you know he will be tossed around, beaten up and down, but you know he will make you laugh and he will entertain.

In The Kid, as in all of Chaplin’s great films, it is the smallest of actions that get laughter from the audience. The simple act of lighting a cigarette becomes an event for the Little Tramp. Maybe he will light it correctly, maybe he won’t, there’s no guarantee of comedy being the result of his actions but in the suspense over whether he will do something funny he creates comedy. That is a rare talent, to create comedy not out of anything funny but out of the expectation of something funny. Of course The Kid is full of moments designed to be funny, such as the Tramp putting the Kid to work for him or the coffee pot as a baby bottle just to name a couple. That is why when at his best Chaplin is hilarious, he is funny in the obvious ways and he is funny in more subtle ways that only someone with a brilliant comedic mind could think of.

Something that is tantamount to any silent picture is the music, and The Kid is no different. Chaplin claims to be the man responsible for the music in all of his films, but there has been some controversy over that claim. To be honest, I’m not that interested in that controversy, all I know is that the music in The Kid fits like a glove. It is dramatic when it needs to be, it is consistently airy and in the comedic moments the music is funny in its own right. The music greatly helps with the suspense of comedic action that I talked about before, Chaplin uses the music to set up the possibility of a comedic act. Whether Chaplin was responsible for the music or not, it is implemented perfectly into The Kid.

My favorite comedic scenario of The Kid is the boxing match. The boxing match shows the cuteness of Jackie Coogan as the Kid, his facial expressions are his character and they are excellent. But, it is the type of comedy that Chaplin is the best at, physical comedy with awkward pauses in between the physicality. Unfortunately it is also the scene that brings the only two blemishes I found in the film into play. The first is the lamp post bending before the Kid’s brother ever touches it and the other is the sudden disappearance of Mother from the boxing match. I know it was explained away that she went to fetch the Kid, but her disappearance was jarring in that one second she was in frame and then the next second she was gone.

What makes Chaplin’s brand of comedy so unique, especially in the silent era, is that he has an eye for slick social commentary. It’s important to note the slick in the sentence, because in his talkies I have found Chaplin’s commentary to be more on the nose and obvious, too much so in most cases. But, in the silent era Chaplin was a master at taking jabs at society under the guise of comedy and never being too overt about it. In The Kid he opens with a small lampoon of the 1920’s idea of virtue as it relates to the single mother. He closes his social commentary by showcasing the people in power and how they don’t always have the best interests of the little people. The little people are the Kid, unable to protect themselves against the machinations of the big governments that ruled the day.

The Kid was Chaplin’s first full length feature and in his transition from shorts to features he left nothing behind. The same comedic Chaplin was present, the same eye for physical comedy combined with smart and witty comedy and slick social commentary was still present. The Kid is a funny film, but I’d go beyond that, The Kid is a hilarious picture and it’s not even Chaplin’s best or funniest picture. If you are a fan of laughing then you have no excuse if you have yet to see The Kid.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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