January 30, 2011

The Kid (1921)

I'm going to write a different sort of review this week.  It occurs to me that my past few attempts have basically just been summaries of the films, with little personal reaction.  So this week I'm taking the opposite tack - no summary, and all personal reaction.  That way if you want to see the film, you won't have the whole thing spoiled for you by reading these reviews.  :)

That said, I actually have mixed feelings about "The Kid".  Parts of it were funny, and parts were sad.  Perhaps it's my maternal instinct, or the fact that I really want to be a mother, but whatever the reason, this film resonated with me.

Without going into summary, I will briefly say that there is one point where the cops try to take the Kid away from The Tramp because they believe that the Kid  needs proper care and attention that he can't possibly be getting from the Tramp in his rundown shack.  But the Tramp, despite taking in the Kid reluctantly, has been his father for the past five years and it's obvious that they love each other.  This whole section where the Tramp chases after the police to get his son back is so heart-wrenching.  It's beautifully acted and the music is especially effective.  The Kid, who was only five when he starred in this role, more than carries his own next to the legendary Charlie Chaplin.  Chaplin is almost a secondary character here - the Kid is the focal point.  I don't know any five year olds who could pull off what Jack Coogan did.  He was the first child star, and he earned it.

Which actually brings me to a little random thought I had earlier.  It occurred to me that all of the actors in this film have now passed away.  This is the magic of movies - capturing someone at a specific moment in time, forever.  Jack Coogan passed away in 1984, and yet by watching "The Kid" he lived again as a small child.  It's hard for me to put into words exactly what I mean, but I just find that pretty awesome.  :)

Anyway, at the beginning I said that I had mixed feelings.  There were parts that I liked, but the movie as a whole felt unfinished.  As Robin pointed out, the film was very short - only 50 minutes.  It didn't really seem like enough time to fully develop the story the way it deserved.  The ending in particular was especially rushed and unfinished.  The Kid is reunited with his birth mother, and that's the end.  We don't see what happens to the Tramp, or how the Kid feels about suddenly having a mother.  It just doesn't feel finished.  I know that Chaplin went on to make more movies starring the Tramp, and I assume that the Kid does not feature into them.  But why not?  Based on this movie, the Kid is clearly extremely important to the Tramp.  He wouldn't allow the authorities to take the Kid away from him, and when it was looking bad you could tell that the Tramp was heartbroken.  So if that's the case, why would be suddenly be okay with turning the Kid over to his birth mother and just vanishing from the picture?  I don't buy it.  I'd have liked more explanation and conclusion.

Still, as a whole the movie was enjoyable.  I'd actually never seen a Chaplin film before, so didn't know what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised at the versatility and talent of Chaplin.  To be the writer, actor, director, producer, editor, and music composer all at the same time is a pretty amazing feat - made even more impressive by how polished the movie was (the unfinished ending notwithstanding).  In the hands of a lesser person the movie could have turned out sloppy and full of problems from one person trying to do too much.  But Chaplin pulled it off remarkably well.

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