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The Kid (1921) - Selected Charlie Chaplin
117    Dibyendu Banerjee    21/10/2021   

The Kid (1921), the first feature film directed by Charles Chaplin, is considered by many critics as the first ‘Dramedy’, since the two genres were ever blended on a film. It is the story of a kid, whose helpless, unwed mother found no other option but to leave her newborn baby in a limousine with a handwritten note requesting to take off the orphan child. However, the baby was stolen by two car thieves, along with the expensive car, and was left by them beside a garbage can in an alley as they had no intention to steal a baby and accept an unnecessary burden. The Little Tramp, who plays a key role in the story, found him and raises him as his own son. After five years, the child grew up to become a sturdy boy and started his life as the unseen helper of the Tramp by breaking glass windows by tossing rocks, while the tramp shows up immediately and offers the owners to repair them for a fee.By that time, the mother of the kid has risen to great heights as an opera singer and does charity work and visits the children of the slums with the hope of relocating her son.

the kid 1921

Edna with her child

As luck would have it, one day the mother and the Kid unknowingly cross paths, when she was playing with a little child by the curbstone, Jackie opened a door and walked out. She smiled at him and gave him a toy, never knowing the little fellow is her own son. Following the incident, she often met the boy, unconscious of the mystic bond and once, after a fight with a neighbouring boy, she carried him in her arms to his house and told the Tramp to call a doctor immediately, as the boy urgently needs medical attention.

the kid 1921

However, when the doctor discovered from the piece of paper that the tramp handed him that he is not the father of the kid, he retained the slip of paper and notified the police about the matter. The officials in their turn sent two men to take the boy to an orphanage and after a tough fight, they took away the boy in an automobile. But by taking a shortcut over the roofs, Charlie, the Tramp stole the boy from their clutches and took him to a flophouse. However, the proprietor of the flophouse was aware of the announcement of a reward for the stolen kid and took him to Edna, the mother, while the Tramp was in deep sleep.

the kid 1921
The Kid pleading to be left with his father, Chaplin

When he woke up, the Tramp started to search his loving kid throughout the night frantically and finally fell exhausted on his own doorstep, where he fell asleep, only to be rudely awakened to find himself being shaken by a big policeman.

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The policeman took him roughly by the collar and unceremoniously bundled him into a waiting automobile. When the car drew up in front of a large mansion, his escort alighted, gripped him by the arm to lead him to the door and rang the bell. As the door opened, the Tramp became dumb folded, while Jackie, the kid and his newly found mother dragged him inside the mansion to live with them.

the kid 1921

The Kid, Charles Chaplin's first six-reel feature and one of the most aesthetically significant works of silent-era cinema, is a perfect blend of comedy and drama. It has been speculated by many that the film was based on a personal tragedy, connected with the death of Chaplin's firstborn infant son just ten days before the production began.

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The film, written, produced, directed, edited, and starred by him, was completed in 1920, was caught up in the divorce actions of Chaplin's first wife Mildred Harris, who sought to attach Chaplin's assets and the raw negative of the film was smuggled by his associates to Salt Lake City, where it was edited in a room at the Hotel Utah.When released, the film proved to be a huge success, the second-highest-grossing film in 1921 and was fluently acclaimed both by the public and the critics. Later, Chaplin deleted some extreme sentimental scenes of the film for the modern audiences and also composed and recorded a new musical score for its theatrical re-release. The re-edited version had its world premiere on 4 April 1972, at the Philharmonic Hall, New York City as a tribute to Chaplin, arranged by the Film Society of Lincoln Centre. Much later, in 2011, it was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library Congress, as a film with cultural and aesthetic significance.

the kid 1921

The Kid, considered by many as Chaplin’s most emotionally complex film and the strong on and off the screen relationship between Jackie Coogan as John the kid and Chaplin as the Tramp, helped immensely to create the perfect parent-child closeness. In the film, Charlie convincingly presented the poverty-stricken household of the Tramp and be it the makeshift cradle or the nightgown he fashions out of an old blanket, he was clearly at his expressive best when he tries to portray the poverty of the Tramp.

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It is believed that the imagery and the story of The Kid are derived from Chaplin’s own memories of his childhood in 1890s London and the tiny room occupied by the boy and fatherly Tramp was said to be based on a place Chaplin lived when he was a kid. What follows after John was handed over to his mother was the strangely interesting dreamland sequence adorned with religious imagery, which despite disrupted the narrative tone a bit, directed its focus on the underlying themes of innocence and morality of the film. In the sequence, the role of the flirtatious angel was played by the then 13-year-old Lita Grey, whom Chaplin married three years later.

the kid 1921
The Tramp and the flirtatious angel

Although a bit disconnected from the narrative, Chaplin mocks the society’s traditional morality in a scene involving their neighbour Charles Reisner’s character, when he keeps trying to land a blow on the terrified Tramp in a delightfully funny boxing sequence, who just manages to save himself by ducking and dodging at the right time. The Kid is a grand testament to Chaplin's skill as a writer, director, producer, composer and actor that he uses his talent to convey a story that is heartwarming and meaningful, even after a century it was made.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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