Welcome to the middle of the first week of the sixth annual Ultimate Decades Blogathon 2021. I’m really excited for this entry because this is the type of deep cut I was hoping to see. Today’s review comes from Tom of Plain, Simple Tom Reviews. Tom reviews a wide range of films on his blog with great insight. I highly recommend you go check out his blog if you don’t already follow him. Now, about his entry, when Kim and I changed the format from a specific decade to specific years in a decade, that opened up the possibility of someone like Tom reaching back 100 years in film history. With The Kid celebrating its centennial this year, Tom chose to spotlight it for the Ultimate Decades Blogathon.
For this particular blogathon, we have been invited to discuss films from any year ending in a 1 and instantly, I knew that there was one film that I was particularly anxious to talk about, having even considered the possibility of doing a post about it on my own site, and there is indeed a special reason for my having chosen Charlie Chaplin’s feature length directorial debut as the film that I would talk about with you all:
Because this year, round about this month in fact, The Kid is 100 years old.
Well now, that’s quite something when you think about it. 100 years. So as this particular film, in addition to many others such as The Phantom Carriage and D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm, is celebrating its centenary this year, what better time is there to write a blog post all about it – celebrating the film and appreciating how Chaplin’s work is still being discussed and thought about after all this time.
“A picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear”
These words, which are put up on screen after the opening credits have finished, perfectly sum up what Chaplin intended the film to be as there’s plenty of that trademark comedy involving the Little Tramp which aims to entertain the masses but from the outset, it’s made clear that the film will perhaps be sad as well, aiming to coax a tear out of one or two audience members.
Because the film does indeed begin on a downbeat note as a young woman “whose sin was motherhood” gives birth at a charity hospital but it’s clear that the baby is unwanted and that the girl isn’t ready to become a parent and so, after the lonely girl contemplates her situation on a park bench, she leaves the baby in the backseat of a car belonging to a rich family – with an attached note which asks the family to look after him – but shortly afterwards, the car is stolen by two crooks and when they realise what is in the backseat, they panic and leave the child in an alley next to some bins.
This is where Chaplin’s Tramp – an “awkward ass” – enters, with buckets of rubbish being thrown down at him, and when he discovers the baby, he, at first, attempts to get rid of it, firstly by placing it in the baby carriage of another woman and then by palming it off on another tramp, but as he finds himself unable to be free of the baby, he soon finds the note the mother had written and eventually decides that he will look after the child and to keep him safe. Meanwhile, the young mother quickly realises that she has made a mistake and is shocked to learn how the car was stolen and how the child has disappeared.
Five years later, The Tramp and The Kid are shown to be still living together, the two of them engaging in a scheme where the child smashes windows and then The Tramp gets paid to fix them, and the young woman has become a famous and well-off entertainer, though she clearly still misses her lost child, at one point being right next to him without even knowing. Afterwards, following a street fight, the child gets sick and when a doctor is called, The Tramp tells him all about where the boy came from and from then on, the proper authorities attempt to take The Kid away but as both he and The Tramp are desperate to remain with each other, they flee and The Tramp attempts to hide him from those who wish to take him away.
So how has The Kid managed to remain so memorable and noteworthy after all these years? Why is Charlie Chaplin still a cinematic icon? Well, as the opening quote suggests, this film is indeed a winning blend of drama and comedy and although I believe that Chaplin made some films that are funnier than this one and that, in all honesty, the comedic elements of the film may become less “relevant” and less funny at time goes on, it can’t be denied that Chaplin was imaginative and talented at what he did, blazing a trail for all future comedy films, and The Kid does have a fair share of humerous gags which manage to be effective even without sound; there are certain comedic setups – such as The Tramp unknowingly getting friendly with the wife of the policeman who has been on his trail – that are still being used to this day and as director, he really does manage to get the best comedic performances out of his actors. There’s even a dream sequence involving a streetful of angels that’s imaginatively done and excellently staged and executed and it’s yet another example of how the film was ahead of its time.
But it’s in the dramatic scenes where The Kid truly shines. The film has been regarded as somewhat autobiographical as the conditions depicted within the film, which include the attitudes of social workers and the like, apparently reflect Chaplin’s own upbringing and unhappy childhood and that the subject matter is meant to reflect on the child he himself lost, and it’s this blending of drama and comedy that makes The Kid stand out from the crowd. It succeeds because there is clearly a close bond between Chaplin and The Kid (this apparently continued offscreen as the two of them spent plenty of time having fun together), the director manages to get a fine performance out of the young lad and even gets him to impersonate the Tramp’s mannerisms, and in the film’s most emotionally affecting scene, wherein the child is being taken away, the emotions on the two actors’ faces – the two of them showing so much despair, anguish and genuine sadness – are just so striking and I do believe that this particular scene will endure for a good long while.
Many of these touching scenes are accompanied by an equally effective, and often heart wrenching, musical score (I’m not sure if the music is different in other versions) that also goes a long way in stirring the soul and additionally, Chaplin frames certain shots very well, sometimes almost looking directly at the audience and at other times, allowing us to properly see and feel the characters’ anguish and the ideal framing really lets us see the bond and the love between the two of them. It’s clear that Chaplin also realises the importance of showing the young mother in a positive light and from the offset, we are on her side and support her even though she leaves the baby behind and this is achieved by the performance of actress Edna Purviance as well as the accompanying music and the fact that the character later gives a big tip to a young delivery boy; it really is important for the film to show that she has a good heart and Chaplin clearly realised this, demonstrating just how clever a filmmaker and storyteller he was.
So that’s The Kid, an “artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy”, as the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry has called it, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. It really is a nice little film, though admittedly not my favourite of Chaplin’s, and it’s even free to view on YouTube right now.
Thank you to Drew and Kim for hosting and I look forward to reading the other entries!
If you’ve missed any of the entries, you can find a list of them all here.