The Kid (1921) Director: Charlie Chaplin
The Kid is Chaplin’s first full-length feature film as a director and was the second highest grossing film of 1921 behind The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentino (Valentino was the first popular sex icon in cinematic history). The Kid stars Charlie Chaplin (The Tramp) and Jackie Coogan (The Kid). It is widely considered his most autobiographical film.
An unmarried woman has a child with an artist who rejects the woman by burning a photograph of the two of them. Distraught, the woman abandons the child with a note in a parked car. Shortly thereafter the car is hijacked by two thieves who get rid of the child. When the woman returns she collapses after finding that the car has been stolen. The tramp eventually finds the child and takes care of him.
Five years later, they are living together. During the days, the kid throws rocks through windows and the tramp shows up to replace them, as a ruse. The child becomes sick and the doctor comes to find that the tramp is not the boy’s father. The doctor takes the original note with him and alerts the authorities.
A fight breaks out between the tramp and the authorities. He wins back the kid, but the woman sees the note from the doctor and returns to claim the kid. Lonely, the tramp falls asleep and enters “dreamland” and dreams of angels and devils. He is awakened by the policeman who leads him to the home of the woman and the kid.
Chaplin’s firstborn son died before production began on this film, adding to severe emotional distress for Chaplin who was stunted by writer’s block and crushed by a failing marriage. The divorce with his wife, Mildred Harris, interfered greatly with the film’s release. So much so, in fact, that it led Chaplin and his associates to capture the original negative from her and smuggle it to Utah in coffee cans, editing the film in a hotel room at the Hotel Utah. He later married Lita Grey, an angel during the “dreamland” sequence.
Unfortunately, Jackie Coogan’s celebrity stardom with the film was short-lived. After the film’s release, at age seven, he was welcomed by royalty in European and even the Pope, but by age thirteen he was found penniless with family troubles. Eventually legislation in the United States was passed to protect child actors, and today it is still called the “Coogan Act”. He later played Uncle Fester on TV’s The Addams Family. As a child, he was considered Chaplin’s only co-star to ever hit the screen. Far more material was shot for this film than any other Chaplin film, at a ratio of 53:1. Chaplin reunited with Coogan for the last time at the Academy Awards in 1972 on Chaplin’s return to the United States. He died in 1984 in Los Angeles.
The Kid is one of Chaplin’s finest films that is worth watching numerous times not only for the amusing portrayal of his classic “Tramp” character, but also for a select group of scenes that separate The Kid from other comedy shorts. One includes a highly technical and innovative scene in which The Tramp has a dream and is surrounded by angels, and also an impassioned performance delivered by Jackie Coogan. Both Chaplin and Coogan developed a solid relationship both on camera, as well as off camera. Like The Gold Rush, it is a sentimental, melodramatic comedy, and is one of the greatest of all time.