Sunday, March 8, 2009

Film Ignorance # 29: The Kid

Film: The Kid
Rating: A Good Movie
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan
Year: 1921
Reason for Ignorance: Not the hugest Chaplin fan

Ignorance Rating*: Pending

Charlie Chaplin was never one for subtlety. The first scene of The Kid is a woman leaving a charity hospital with a child. As the nurse and doctor watch her leave with a mixture of pity and disapproval, a title card appears: "The Woman - whose sin was motherhood."

Ah, thanks Charlie, I get it now: this is a single mother, alone in the world, oppressed by society's mores and forced to travel the cruel world bearing the burden of her sin.

Charlie's not sure you got it, though, because the next shot is just a few seconds of a statue of Jesus weighed down by the cross. "See, she must bear the burden of her sin! She's like Jesus! Get it?"

Ah yes, we get it Charlie, we get it. But he's still not sure, so the next scene is The Woman sitting on a park bench, holding the child. In case you hadn't noticed it yet, this woman is alone and has nowhere to go. And what is the title card that appears to make sense of this shot of a lonely woman, sitting by herself, alone, with no one else: "Alone." Thanks.

Once the little tramp himself shows up, the picture picks up a great deal. The Woman tries to leave her child with a rich family, but the baby is accidentally kidnapped by a pair of car thieves, who leave the baby near where the tramp lives. Once The Tramp picks up the baby, he's stuck with him; a cop prevents him from putting him back down on the ground. And so Chaplin is left to raise a little boy, who quickly grows up to the tender age of five.

This movie is very funny, stringing together a series of hilarious vignettes that would have been all or most of a Chaplin film just a few years earlier. The kid breaking windows for the tramp to fix them, a cop catching on to their racket, the tramp flirting with the cop's wife after fixing her windows (if you know what I mean), the kid beating a local bully, the tramp beating the bully's enormous brother with the aid of a brick, and other sequences are very funny. And Chaplin, directing his first feature, has done his best to provide a story that holds all of the gags together, a story that mixes his trademark sentimentality with his trademark social conscience.

Unfortunately, not everything quite comes together. Although the movie is only an hour long, it actually runs out of plot elements and throws in a pointless and unnecessary dream sequence near the end - just, I guess, to make it "feature" length. And the ending is rushed and a bit forced, lacking the pathos that Chaplin would develop in his later 20s and 30s film.

The Kid's historical importance is incalculable: as Chaplin's first feature film, it was a risky studio endeavor that paved the way for Chaplin and his many successors and contemporaries (from Keaton to Fields) to make feature-length comedies with enormous creative control. As a film, it's merely pretty good. I enjoyed it very much, but it's a long way from mature Chaplin, and even at 60 minutes, feels a bit too long.

*The "Ignorance Rating" is the percentage of people who voted "Yes" on the poll for this film. If ten people vote in the poll, and 5 of them have seen the movie, I give it an ignorance rating of 50. It's just a ballpark way for me to know how egregious my ignorance was in this case.


MovieMan0283 said...

If you think Chaplin's intertitles are bad, you should check out some of Griffith's! Although they at least raise overwrought maudlin sentiment to a kind of art form whereas The Kid's seem merely to be bad...

Roger L. said...

"The Kid" ends up being one of my favorites, in part because of the discordant parts - the overbaked "Her only sin was motherhood" tone seems to add to a sense of Dickens-ian LA/London and the shabby dream sequence (featuring provacatively Lita Grey, his future bride) comes across as more sincere and modest than affected or half-assed every time I see it.

The film would be less without it and be missing an "openness" I appreciate.

The tearful reunion between Cooper and CC still manages to choke me up everytime I see it.

I also think "The Kid" demonstrates Chaplin's increasing power as a "film" story-teller and stager of mise-en-scene, never very obvious or appreciated.


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movie fans said...

As old as this film is, it holds up extremely well, with comedy timing it's main factor, thanks to both Chaplin and Coogan. It's no wonder Jackie Coogan (1914-1984) became an overnight star with this one film.