November 18, 2014

filmsgraded.com:
The Kid (1921)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance

What it's about. Chaplin's first feature-length film continues his iconic tramp character. He is obligated to raise a baby abandoned by lovely but impoverished Edna Purviance. Because it is a movie, she subsequently becomes a famous actress, but spends her spare time in the slums giving away apples and toys to street urchins.

Meanwhile, the child is now adorable five-year-old Jackie Coogan. He has bonded with Chaplin, and can take care of himself in a scrap, even if it gets Chaplin in trouble with bully Charles Reisner. But state welfare workers and curmudgeon doctor Jules Hanft get wind of Coogan's orphan status, and attempt to make him a ward of the state.

Chaplin and Coogan elude their pursuers and stay briefly at the flophouse of Henry Bergman. By now, Purviance has learned that Cooper is her lost son, leading to a satisfying sixth reel conclusion.

How others will see it. The Kid was a tremendous box office success and became the second-highest grossing film of 1921. The movie made Chaplin the leading actor and filmmaker in Hollywood, as well as among the most recognizable faces in the world.

Today, The Kid ranks among Chaplin's most popular movies, along with Modern Times, City Lights, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush.

At imdb.com, The Kid has a lofty 46K user votes and an equally impressive 8.4 user rating. Women over 45 grade it 8.8, no doubt pleased with the ridiculously happy ending (the tramp, the tyke, and his beautiful mother live together in health and material comfort).

The curious dream sequence, placed just prior to the happy ending, has perplexed viewers for generations, and remains unpopular relative to the rest of the movie. During the dream sequence, Chaplin kisses Lita Grey, then 12 years old.

By the time Grey turned 20, she had married and divorced Chaplin and, in between, delivered two sons. Grey was the second of three teenagers that Chaplin married, bookended by Mildred Harris and Oona O'Neill.

How I felt about it. It's an enjoyable film. Coogan was born into the theater business, and his scrappy performance is engaging. The chemistry between Chaplin and Coogan is obvious. The gags are generally amusing, and we have little fear that the bully will beat up poor Chaplin. The perpetually troubled but plucky tramp character remains a winner.

But I am a contrarian again. I thought the dream sequence surpassed the rest of the movie, which is mostly a collection of gags with an unlikely crowd-pleasing ending pasted on. Given that Chaplin is a small man, his victories over the bully, the social workers, and various cops could only happen in a comedy. His criminal racket of repairing windows broken by his son seems more likely to lose his son to the courts, than a visit from a doctor.

The surreal dream sequence was something more, and I'm sure it meant something to Chaplin, though exactly what that is, is unclear. Perhaps it expresses the trauma the tramp suffers upon the loss of his only friend and companion, his adopted son. Or, perhaps it was an elaborate ruse to impress future child bride Lita Grey.

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