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With: Charles Chaplin/Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 50
Date: 01/21/1921

The Kid (1921)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Father Figure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Charlie Chaplin's first feature film, running six reels (about 50 minutes), was instantly hailed as a masterpiece. It still is, though Chaplin's longer works The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times tend to overshadow it today. The very simple plot has the Little Tramp rescuing a baby on a doorstep (deciding to keep it to avoid attracting the attention of a nosy cop) and raising him for five years. At that point, officials attempt to take the child away.

Critics at the time praised the film for its effortless combination of comedy and pathos, which is not as easy as it looks. Filmmakers today are still trying to come up with that winning combination and failing more often than not. The Kid's memorable highlights include breaking and selling windowpanes, Chaplin's fight with the neighborhood bully, and the truly bizarre dream sequence with the vampish fairy. The most famous clip is the one in which the kid cries and calls to Charlie from the back of the orphanage truck, and it's a truly stunning, heartbreaking moment.

In the role, Jackie Coogan surely gives one of the all-time great juvenile performances, and for a while he became as big a star as Chaplin. Coogan's next best role came a year later, opposite Lon Chaney, as the title role in Oliver Twist (1922). Decades later, he became known to a new generation as Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family" TV show. In the 1970s, Chaplin composed a beautiful new score for The Kid, and it's the one that's still used today.

In 2003, Warner Home Video released The Kid in a two-disc set with the rest of the Chaplin Collection. Highlights include a 26-minute tribute film featuring the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and a second, complete feature film, My Boy (1921), starring Coogan in a very similar role. Chaplin biographer David Robinson provides an introduction.

In 2016, the Criterion Collection supplemented their Chaplin series with a new Blu-ray disc. It includes some, but not all of the extras from the 2003 DVD (the Kiarostami short is missing, as is the Robinson intro), but mostly upgraded to HD. There are also some new extras, such as a video essay on Coogan, and a new commentary track by Chaplin historian Charles Maland. Plus the new picture and sound are impeccable. A liner notes essay is by Tom Gunning.

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