The Kid

1921

The Kid

Critics Consensus

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100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 30

95%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 15,349
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The Kid Photos

Movie Info

The Kid was Charles Chaplin's first self-produced and directed feature film; 1914's 6-reel Tillie's Punctured Romance was a Mack Sennett production in which Chaplin merely co-starred. The story "with a smile and perhaps a tear," begins with unwed mother Edna Purviance leaving the Charity Hospital, babe in arms. Her burden is illustrated with a title card showing Christ bearing the cross. The father of the child is a poor artist who cares little for of his former lover, carelessly knocking her photo into his garret fireplace and cooly returning it there when he sees it is too badly damaged to keep. The mother sorrowfully leaves her baby in the back seat of a millionaire's limousine, with a note imploring whoever finds it to care for and love the child. But thieves steal the limo, and, upon discovering the baby, ditch the tot in an alleyway trash can. Enter Chaplin, out for his morning stroll, carefully selecting a choice cigarette butt from his well used tin. He stumbles upon the squalling infant and, after trying to palm it off on a lady with another baby in a carriage, decides to adopt the kid himself. Meanwhile Purviance has relented, but when she returns to the mansion and is told that the car has been stolen, she collapses in despair. Chaplin outfits his flat for the baby as best he can, using an old coffee pot with a nipple on the spout as a baby bottle and a cane chair with the seat cut out as a potty seat. Chaplin's attic apartment is a representation of the garret he had shared with his mother and brother in London, just as the slum neighborhood is a recreation of the ones he knew as a boy. Five years later, Chaplin has become a glazier, while his adopted son (the remarkable Jackie Coogan) drums up business for his old man by cheerfully breaking windows in the neighborhood. Purviance meanwhile has become a world famous opera singer, still haunted by the memory of her child, who does charity work in the very slums in which he now lives. Ironically, she gives a toy dog to little Coogan. Chaplin and Coogan's close calls with the law and fights with street toughs are easily overcome, but when Coogan falls ill, the attending doctor learns of the illegal adoption and summons the Orphan Asylum social workers who try to separate Chaplin from his foster son. In one of the most moving scenes in all of Chaplin's films, Chaplin and Coogan try to fight the officials, but Chaplin is subdued by the cop they have summoned. Coogan is roughly thrown into the back of the Asylum van, pleading to the welfare official and to God not to be separated from his father. Chaplin, freeing himself from the cop, pursues the orphanage van over the rooftops and, descending into the back of the truck, dispatches the official and tearfully reunites with his "son". Returning to check on the sick boy, Purviance encounters the doctor and is shown the note which she had attached to her baby five years earlier. Chaplin and Coogan, not daring to return home, settle in a flophouse for the night. The proprietor sees a newspaper ad offering a reward for Coogan's return and kidnaps the sleeping boy. After hunting fruitlessly, a grieving Chaplin falls asleep on his tenement doorstep and dreams that he has been reunited with the boy in Heaven (that "flirtatious angel" is Lita Grey, later Chaplin's second wife). Woken from his dream by the cop, he is taken via limousine to Purviance's mansion where he is welcomed by Coogan and Purviance, presumably to stay. Chaplin had difficulties getting The Kid produced. His inspiration, it is suggested was the death of his own first son, Norman Spencer Chaplin a few days after birth in 1919. His determination to make a serio-comic feature was challenged by First National who preferred two reel films, which were more quickly produced and released. Chaplin wisely gained his distributors' approval by inviting them to the studio, where he trotted out the delightful Coogan to entertain them. Chaplin's divorce case from his first wife Mildred Harris also played a part; fearing seizure of the negatives Chaplin and crew escaped to Salt Lake City and later to New York to complete the editing of the film. Chaplin's excellent and moving score for The Kid was composed in 1971 for a theatrical re-release, but used themes that Chaplin had composed in 1921. Chaplin re-edited the film somewhat for the re-release, cutting scenes that he felt were overly sentimental, such as Purviance's observing of a May-December wedding and her portrayal as a saint, outlined by a church's stained glass window.

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Cast

Jackie Coogan
as The Child
Edna Purviance
as The Woman
Carl Miller
as The Man
Tom Wilson
as The Policeman
Henry Berman
as Lodging House Proprietor
Charles Reisner
as The Bully
Jack Coogan Sr.
as Pickpocket
Nellie Bly Baker
as Slum Woman
Henry Bergman
as Flophouse Proprietor
Lita Grey Chaplin
as The Flirting Angel
Raymond Lee
as His Kid Brother
Robert Dunbar
as Bridegroom
Kitty Bradbury
as Bride's Mother
Rupert Franklin
as Bride's Father
Walter Lynch
as Tough cop
Jules Hanft
as Physician
Frank Campeau
as Welfare Officer
John McKinnon
as Chief of Police
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News & Interviews for The Kid

Critic Reviews for The Kid

All Critics (30) | Top Critics (4)

  • To my mind The Kid is by long odds the best motion picture comedy ever made. It has more than humor; it has tenderness and literary charm. Incidentally it is the first child picture I ever saw that did not give me an acute pain to the bowels.

    Mar 24, 2019 | Full Review…
  • It was Chaplin's first full-length film, and the action is perhaps too episodic; he hadn't yet mastered the structural demands of the long form. But several of the episodes... are sublime.

    May 14, 2018 | Full Review…
  • While it will move people to uproarious laughter and keep them in a state of uneasing delight, it also will touch their hearts and win sympathy, not only for the star, but for his leading woman, and little Jackie Coogan.

    Jul 22, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • As always, Chaplin's opulent Victorian sentimentality is made palatable both by the amazing grace of his pantomimic skills and the balancing presence of harsh reality.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Brown

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Chaplin proved himself equally adept at tickling funny bones and pulling heartstrings, and his chemistry with young Jackie Coogan remains one of cinema's great onscreen pairings

    Jun 5, 2019 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • The Kid, Charlie Chaplin's first feature-length production, is one of his most sentimental and most satisfying films, a simple but very effective blend of pathos and laughs, in which the Tramp finds an abandoned baby.

    May 14, 2018 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Kid

  • Oct 14, 2017
    Charlie Chaplin and little Jackie Coogan are delightful in this film, which has a tramp (ahem, The Tramp) finding a baby who has been abandoned by its mother. There are several funny and endearing scenes, including the two of them running a scam whereby Coogan breaks windows by throwing rocks at them, runs off as fast as his little legs can carry him, and then Chaplin is Johnny-on-the-spot to repair them. Another has Coogan getting into a fight with another boy, leading to Chaplin getting into a fight with his (very large, seemingly padded) older brother. Things get sad and pull the heartstrings when the city comes to take Coogan away to an orphan asylum, and it's interesting that the film touches on the rights of an adoptive parent ("are you his father?"). The extended dream sequence towards the end is strange and creative, and I was quite surprised to read later that Lita Grey, who plays the 'flirtatious angel' in that sequence, was only 12 years old at the time. Three years later, when Chaplin (aged 35) had an affair with her (if you call having sex with a 15 year old 'having an affair'), she got pregnant, and the pair married in Mexico. The marriage would only last four years, and Chaplin would divorce her amidst scandal and an enormous alimony payment. I digress. 'The Kid' is a charming film, though a little thin in its plot, and quite brisk at 53 minutes.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 07, 2016
    Like so much of Chaplin's early filmography, "The Kid" takes a plot that could easily be maudlin and injects it with inspired humor and amusing flights of fancy.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 29, 2015
    Having seen several of Charlie Chaplin's films now, The Kid was yet another gem in his long-running list of classic films. I think the opening intertitle said it best "a picture with a smile and perhaps, a tear." It was much like many of his other films in that it blends slapstick comedy with an incredible amount of heart. I watch hundreds of films every year, and the number one thing that bothers me is when a film tries to be something it's not. Whether that means it focuses too much on one genre or tries to do way too much with its script, I can assure you that The Kid does not have these issues. I think this is most prevalent when the Tramp, played by Chaplin, is running across rooftops trying to catch up to his adopted son being taken away by the authorities. I laughed multiple times as Chaplin pulls the clumsy Tramp gags he does so well but it was hard to hold back tears a few seconds later as he reunites for a few moments with his son. The performances are also worth mentioning. Jackie Coogan, who plays the five year old boy, John, that Chaplin adopts, really nails the humor. As far as I know it was the first major role for someone so young, and Coogan gives a memorable performance. The scene in which he is breaking windows for his father to fix and constantly running away from the police officer is very reminiscent of so many of Chaplin's gags. Although Coogan was great, Chaplin is why you watch the film, and I think The Kid is about as personal of a performance as you will get from Chaplin. He had just buried his infant son shortly before filming began on The Kid. His performance is evidently flooded with closeted emotion. Even considering my favorite film of his, City Lights, I think The Kid is his most emotionally powerful film. I think the fact that this film came out in 1921, shows just how ahead of its time it was. Before the film and even a little bit after, adult actors were playing child roles. At least Chaplin and the studio had the guts to put their faith in a young five year old, and I think everyone can agree, it paid off. The film does have some dated elements though. For instance, the bully that the Tramp fights is noticeably wearing a stuffed shirt to make him look buff and more intimidating, something that films would never do now-in-days. Considering the bully punches through bricks and takes down a light post with his bare hands, I guess it was worth it. The slapstick comedy angles are very much a figure of silent films in the 20's. The stupidity of some of the fight sequences are both very dated but endlessly entertaining. So even though The Kid can be taken as a slapstick comedy, I think it's the dramatic and thought provoking elements that make the film so special. To a certain extent, this film deals with the age old question of "who is qualified to be a parent?" Of course, it appears the film does have a happy ending but I wonder what happens next. What happens after the lady gets her son back, does the Tramp lose him forever? What gives her the right to take back her baby after giving it up in the first place? Is the fact that the Tramp poor play a factor into the decision to take the kid away from him? I think it's these questions that make this film more than just a laugh out loud comedy and a film that should be studied and understood to be way ahead of its time. I think that's why I always seem to enjoy Chaplin's films, they deal with political and real life issues without bashing these ideas and opinions over the viewer's heads. To me, The Kid exudes a language unspoken in that it takes on issues and ideas that just weren't looked at in the early 20's. The Kid's balance of humor and heart along with its strong political ideas make it one of Chaplin's best, and certainly his most personal and emotional filled films. 9.1/10
    Thomas D Super Reviewer
  • Nov 10, 2012
    Although I find unnecessary the dream sequence near the end, this is a great 6-reeler that finds the perfect balance between funny and touching - and the highlight is sweet little co-star Jackie Coogan, who steals every scene he is in.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer

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