The Kid

13 Jul

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Before I start my review of Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 film The Kid, I feel it’s worth telling you the story of how I came to watch it. Any readers of the excellent At The Back Films blog, or followers of our respective Twitter feeds, may by now have noticed that Tom, the owner of that blog, and I are colleagues and friends. We have been so for a year, and in that time we have regularly discussed films (and his envy-inspiring beard, but that’s not really why we’re here). We often recommend and lend each other movies, and we have a decent success rate in picking out what the other may enjoy. Now, one of the things I have learned about Tom in the last 12 months is that he is an extremely polite, placid and all round nice guy.

Got that? Right, well imagine my surprise then when, upon arriving at work one day, Tom bounded over to me and with a look of uncharacteristic, and frankly quite intimating aggression in his well groomed face, blurted out “I’m going to lend you a film” with such force I nearly fell out my chair. Once I had regained my composure and assured everybody else there was nothing to worry about (including consoling one girl who was so frightened she burst into tears*), I asked him what film he would be entrusting me with. Tom explained it was The Kid, as made by one of his film heroes, Mr. Chaplin and he made it clear that our continuing friendship would more than likely depend on my enjoyment of this movie. Shaking slightly, I accepted the DVD off him, hoping that I would like it so as not to feel forced to say nice things like “Well, I know where you’re coming from, but…” when discussing it with Tom. Despite the fearsome nature in which this movie was given to me, I did very much welcome the chance to further widen my film-watching horizons.

It is with a great deal of relief then that I can tell you, whilst I’ve got a lot of work to do before I approach Tom levels of Chaplin fandom, I did thoroughly enjoy this movie. The Kid tells the story of a baby, aka The Kid (Jackie Coogan) abandoned by his destitute mother and found, then subsequently raised, by The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin).

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This is the first Chaplin film I have ever seen, so I was quite unsure as to what to expect. I knew it was silent, I knew it was black and white and that’s about it. What I now know is that this was Chaplin’s first feature length comedy and some light research has certainly enlightened me to as it’s enduring legacy and influence. There’s so much I really liked about this film, and of the very few things I couldn’t quite get to grips with, I still found myself filled with a respect for what I was watching.

This is wonderfully intelligent film making. The first thing that struck me was the endearing physicality of Chaplin’s performance. This is one of those things that I am aware of through his place in popular culture, but had never experienced myself. His on screen presence is phenomenal. At the risk of making a point so obvious it will sound stupid, when you’re unable to express yourself through dialogue, the importance of the physical acting is heightened. Clearly, this is something that would have been a requirement of all actors of that time, but in my extremely limited experience of movies of that era I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done so well. It’s hard to take your eyes of Chaplin in any scene he’s in, he just naturally draws your attention. His occasional looks to the camera make you feel like he’s addressing you directly, largely through an extraordinary ability to draw you in with his eyes.

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Along with Chaplin, Jackie Coogan also puts in a fantastic performance as the titular character. He also achieves much of his brilliance through his physicality, and it is said that in his whole career Chaplin never found anybody else better able to mimic his own actions than Coogan. The film made him a world famous child star and it is not hard to see why. His chemistry with Chaplin is truly a sight to behold; they convey the warmth and love of their relationship beautifully, and it is thanks to the quality of the work they do throughout that the most intense moment of the film is completely gripping and wrought with emotion. The movie is at it’s absolute best when Chaplin and Coogan share the screen, which thankfully is for the majority of the runtime.

The story is excellent and, despite it’s seemingly simple premise, is executed with supreme intellect and allows Chaplin to display some truly brilliant story crafting talent. For a comedy, it didn’t make me laugh out loud a whole lot of times, but the humour is still uplifting and often genuinely brilliant. I enjoyed the recurring joke of the policeman who turns up at consistently inconvenient times for The Tramp, and there is a fight scene that makes tremendous use of slapstick comedy thanks to that already-mentioned brilliant physical acting.

I found myself being really impressed by the set design. Large parts of the film take place either in The Tramp’s home or in the street outside. The set looks realistic enough but it isn’t until the aforementioned fight scene that it becomes clear that parts of it have been designed to alter on impact, thus brilliantly exaggerating the effects of the scuffle. The other key point that can’t go unmentioned is the quality of the music. Composed by Chaplin himself, it beautifully compliments the film and never once drops in quality, lifting The Kid still further into ‘classic’ territory.

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Picking out one part of the film that I was less keen on, I’d have to say it temporarily lost me near the end. As the story is reaching it’s conclusion, The Tramp enters ‘Dreamland’. I quite simply could not get on board with what was happening on screen at this point. Maybe there was something that I just didn’t get, or didn’t resonate with me fully, but for a brief moment the surrealism took me right of a movie that had been completely engaging right up until that point.

As I said earlier, it is with relief that I can say I am now a big fan of this film and it was able to surpass the expectations I had set for my own enjoyment of it. I’ll certainly go on and check out more Chaplin work, and perhaps try to further my own knowledge of this era of silent comedy, of which Tom has a wealth of knowledge and will surely help me with. Despite being rooted in the time period of it’s conception for incredibly obvious reasons, The Kid is a film that in many ways feels timeless and surely holds universal appeal.

9/10

*Please note, nobody was made to cry in the acquisition, watching or reviewing of this movie.

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4 Responses to “The Kid”

  1. At The Back July 13, 2013 at 16:29 #

    You know how nervous I was about this. I sneaked a glance of your score on my way out of the cinema and got a huge smile. Well done, our friendship remains intact and stronger than ever.

    It’s a very well written review and also nice to see that you’ve covered similar areas to myself, showing the film’s universality. I’d be more than happy to recommend more from Chaplin or even Keaton.

    • Chris July 15, 2013 at 02:49 #

      I just saw this one recently myself and enjoyed it too. Would you or Tom be able to comment on Chaplin’s waddle, the rooftop chase scene and if this was one of the first “Tramp” movies for him? When I saw the scene of him on the rooftops I wondered if that famous flat-footed waddle had anything to do with these scenes? As if the Tramp developed that style of walking after his adventure on the rooftops, walking and straddling the top of them. Am I crazy for thinking this?

      • Richard Burns August 1, 2013 at 20:58 #

        Hi Chris. I’m really sorry for my late reply – thanks a lot for commenting. Tom, being studied in Chaplin, informs me that the ‘waddle’ was developed in 1914 along with the rest of The Tramp’s characteristics. It’s a nice theory but unfortunately, the waddle already existed and was just put to good use in the rooftop scene, not made for it.

      • Chris August 23, 2013 at 17:21 #

        No problem on the delay! I’m way behind of everything myself! Thanks for clarifying the ‘waddle’ …I thought it was a longshot but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head after watching ‘The Kid’

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