Blu-Ray Review: The Kid (1921)

Published on February 10th, 2016 in: Blu-Ray, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews |

By Jeffery X Martin


Charlie Chaplin is one of those filmmakers that gets a lot of lip service. For someone who was once the most popular movie star in the world, Chaplin seems to have become the sole property of film schools and scholars, while the general public, the non-academe, have rarely seen a Chaplin movie.

Perhaps modern audiences don’t care about Chaplin because he’s become such a stereotype. His Little Tramp character, with his tiny mustache, cane and awkward waddle, has been played by others and included in cartoons. People see him as that character, not as an accomplished director or composer.

Although Criterion has released Chaplin movies before, perhaps their release of The Kid will be the one that gets regular film fans talking about Chaplin again as the multi-faceted artist he was.

It’s a simple story, and the film runs less than an hour. An unmarried woman has a baby (the title card reads, “Her only sin–Motherhood,” which I absolutely love) and realizes she can’t take care of it. She leaves it in the backseat of a fancy car outside a big house. Surely the rich folk there will take care of the baby, right? Well, maybe. The car is stolen, and the baby is dropped off on the wrong side of the tracks by the theives. He is found and taken in by The Tramp, who suddenly has to figure out how to raise a child.

It’s charming as can be. The kid, played by Jackie Coogan (who grew up to play Uncle Fester on The Addams Family television show) is precocious, but not to the point where you want to slap him. He seems like a normal kid. Chaplin, with a never-ending resourcefulness, cuts diapers out of bedsheets and puts a nipple over the spout of a coffeepot for the kid to drink from, almost like a water bottle for a guinea pig.

There’s a lot of funny stuff in this movie. Some of it you’ve seen before, but only because other filmmakers nabbed it from Chaplin. The physical comedy bits are delightful.

It’s interesting to see how often Chaplin breaks the fourth wall in this movie. He often stares directly into the camera while doing some bit of business with his hands. It’s also intriguing to feel the strong Christian bent the movie has, especially since there’s not a deus ex machina in the film. The Hand of God doesn’t suddenly extend from the heavens and make everything okay. There is, however, a kind of firm, quiet, faith displayed in the characters, even when terrible things happen to them, which modern-day Christian filmmakers could learn from. Stop ham-fisting, you guys!

It goes without saying that the restoration is fantastic. This Criterion disc looks sharp and is packed full of extras. The interview with Jackie Coogan is informative and respectful. Even after all these years, he still refers to Charlie as “Mr. Chaplin.” For tech-heads, there’s a fascinating piece about undercranking the camera and how it affects the timing of a gag.

If you’ve only heard of Charlie Chaplin, The Kid represents a great entrance point for his work. The Criterion is probably the finest edition of The Kid so far, and its worth the time and effort to seek it out. Then you can talk with all the film school people about Chaplin’s repertoire and physicality and all those other words you normally shudder when you hear.

The Kid will be released by Criterion on February 16.

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