I find it difficult to think of Charlie Chaplin as anything but a comedic actor, but one of his most notable films is in essence a drama. The Kid was the silent star’s first feature-length picture at one-hour in length. Associated First National Pictures was reluctant to let the moneymaker do a longer movie because it was making so much revenue off his quick-to-produce short subjects. The Kid proved highly successful, however, with Chaplin as writer, director, producer, star and score composer.
An unwed mother (Edna Purviance) who is unable to care for her child leaves him in a car outside a mansion but is unaware a couple of hoodlums take off with the vehicle. When the men discover the screaming child in the back seat they leave him in a dingy alley where our hero, the Tramp (Chaplin), finds him. He initially tries to get rid of the baby, but ends up taking him home.
Five years later the Tramp and the Kid (Jackie Coogan) have a great relationship working as scam artists. The Kid throws rocks to break windows, and the Tramp arrives just in time to offer the installation of new glass. They live in a run-down apartment in a run-down part of town but are obviously happy together. The Tramp turns out to be a fantastic caregiver who has not only educated his child to act as housekeeper and cook, but grooms the child somewhat like apes do.
The mother has in the interim become a famous actress with plenty of money. She regrets abandoning her child and gives away toys to poor children in the Kid’s neighborhood, including to the Kid himself. When the boy becomes ill, the mother comes around to check on him and becomes involved in welfare services’ fight to put the boy in an orphanage. During her time in the Tramp’s home, she finds the note she left on her baby and makes the connection. She offers a reward for the boy’s recovery, and he is eventually taken from the Tramp and delivered to her. In the end, however, the woman adopts the Tramp as well.
The Kid is marked by a variety of adventures shared by the Tramp and the Kid. The two are so in sync that despite their down-trodden lifestyle, we can see no better parent for the boy. Coogan dresses like his father figure with oversized, ragged pants and suspenders. The child actor really outshines Chaplin in many regards as his performance is so mature for his character. The actor was seven years old at the time of the film’s release, which makes his acting all the more impressive.
Although The Kid is full of humorous moments, what will strike audience members the most are the dramatic efforts of the actors. Chaplin is admirable in the unlikely role of father and makes us feel the devotion with which he looks after his adopted son.
- The Kid is set for 6:30 a.m. ET April 16 on TCM.
Source: Robert Osborne