By 1921, Charles Chaplin was already among the biggest stars in the world courtesy of his 10-15 minute shorts. That year marked the release of The Kid, his first feature film. Having debuted the “Little Tramp,” his most popular character in 1914’s The Kid Auto Races at Venice ((also known as The Pest) Chaplin ignored the naysayers who felt that comedy, particularly slapstick, would hold an audience’s attention for a feature-length film.
At his inception, The Tramp had been a little rough, and a lot goofy, content to waddle around in shoes about ten sizes two big. However, with The Kid, Chaplin proved himself to be a master storyteller and expanded The Tramp beyond the realm of a simple clown and humanized him.
The Kid is a rather simple story. Things open with The Woman (longtime Chaplin collaborator Edna Purviance), whose “only sin was motherhood,” leaving a charity hospital with a baby she can’t afford to raise. Hoping to give the child a better life, she attempts to give him to a wealthy man. However, an unfortunate turn of events lands the baby in the slums. The Tramp (Chaplin) discovers the baby and eventually decides to keep “John.”
Despite the nature of their hand-to-mouth existence, The Tramp comes up with ingenious ways to provide cribs, diapers and other necessities. Skipping ahead five years, John (Jackie Coogan) has become The Tramp’s able partner in minor crime. The adorable and precocious kid lobs rocks through windows which The Tramp then offers to repair for a reasonable fee. The relationship between young John and The Tramp is at the core of the film, though John’s mother does reappear after her circumstances change. devastated when the authorities threaten to separate the two, “father and son” find themselves on the run, desperate to stay together.
As humorous and freewheeling as The Kid can be, the most memorable scene is the truly heartbreaking moment when the two face separation. Jackie Coogan proves himself to be one of the most talented child actors in the history of film, as his plaintive wail (realistic, but not overdone) is contrasted against Chaplin’s crumbled expression. No words are necessary, for both man and boy, their worlds have become one; to separate is to lose a piece of themselves.
The version presented here is Chaplin’s 1972 reissue, which was cut down to 52 minutes (removing only moments with Purvience, putting the focus more directly on The Tramp. Nonetheless, what we’re left with is brilliant. For some, the only slight misstep might be a dream sequence involving angels and devils. It has no real effect on the plot and feels a bit unnecessary. Dream sequences aside, The Kid comes very highly recommended.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 4K restoration looks absolutely stunning. The black and white photography is impeccable. Contrast is nicely layered, blacks are inky and whites are never blown out. Considering that The Kid is well over ninety years old, it truly is amazing how awesome this transfer looks, and Criterion deserves major kudos for their work here.
The restored uncompressed monaural soundtrack uses the original score by Chaplin. He used numerous orchestral instruments, resulting in a punchy, lush, melodic piece that fits what’s happening on the screen perfectly. Representations of the 1972 re-release, the Inter-titles are in English.
No subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary Featuring Chaplin Historian Charles Maland: Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2015, Maland discusses the period in which The Kid was made, the differences between the 1921 version and the 1972 version, the different locations where the film was shot, Jackie Coogan’s performance and his relationship with Chaplin, the music score, some of the themes, and more.
- Jackie Coogan: The First Child Star (HD, 19:08) Produced for Criterion in 2015 by Charlie Chaplin scholar Lisa Haven, this video essay takes a look at the career of Jackie Coogan, his performance in The Kid, his relationship with Chaplin, and subsequent career. Archival footage, and photographs are included.
- A Study in Undercranking (HD, 25:09) Produced exclusively for Criterion in 2015, silent-film specialist Ben Model explains how Chaplin created various effects, and achieved a certain look for his films. Also included are excerpts from an audio interview with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh recorded in 1964, archival stills, and more.
- Jackie Coogan Interview (HD, 11:04) Recorded in 1980 by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill for the British television series Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film. The actor recalls how he was approached by Chaplin to appear in The Kid. He discusses his mentor’s tremendous talent and natural instincts.
- Lita Grey Chaplin Interview (HD, 9:59) Conducted by Charles Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance in 1993, Lita Grey Chaplin discusses her work on The Kid (she played the flirting angel) and The Gold Rush, her romantic relationship with Charlie Chaplin and their marriage, the legend’s professional “family”, her work as a talent agent, and more.
- Rollie Totheroh Audio Interview (HD, 7:48) Conducted in 1964, this is an excerpt from an interview conducted with the cinematographer of The Kid. He discusses his experience working with Chaplin on the film.
- Interview with Mo Rothman (HD, 9:42) Recorded by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance in 1998, Rothman re-released many of Chaplin’s films including The Kid. He recalls his first meeting with Chaplin in 1952, the distribution contract that was signed, publicity for his films, and more.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 7:21) Three fully restored scenes without sound.
- Titles (HD, 6:11) The original First National opening titles, several intertitles, and the original closing card. The titles were taken from a 16mm print made from a 1921 35mm nitrate print. The 16mm print is courtesy of Bruce Lawton and the Malames Collection. No sound.
- “Charlie” on the Ocean (HD, 3:59) A 1921 newsreel documenting Chaplin’s first return trip to Europe.
- Charlie Chaplin Conducts The Kid (HD, 2:03) An older Chaplin conducts the new score for The Kid.
- Nice and Friendly (1922) (HD, 10:22) A silent short starring Charles Chaplin, and Jackie Coogan. The film was shot at Pickfair, the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. It’s presented here with a new piano score by composer Timothy Brock.
- Trailers (HD) There are three trailers for The Kid from the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands, which were created for the 1972 reissue of the film. Each average about 3:20.
- Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by film historian Tom Gunning.