Cult Movies: Chaplin classic The Kid has mirth and heart in equal measure

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid
Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

IT'S more than a century since Charlie Chaplin delivered his first full feature film, The Kid.

He'd been the king of the comedic short for many years previously, of course, and he'd already established his popular persona, The Tramp. Here, though, he takes that character to new heights playing alongside the Kid of the title (played by the brilliant Jackie Coogan), whom he adopts when he's abandoned by his mother as a baby.

Watching the new 4K restoration from Criterion, it's easy to see why The Kid charmed audiences so much in 1921. It remains a heart-warming, smile-inducing gem of a movie that captures much of what made Chaplin a superstar.

It's got that shameless melodramatic mood the comic excelled at, that brazen sentimentality that still pulls at the heart strings, and enough laughs to make it feel like a timeless comedy from a master of the genre.

It's also got a strong political punch that may not be subtle in the points it makes about poverty and the marginalised in society, but is still very welcome all the same.

As a film, it has a dark enough vibe at times. It begins with the abandonment scene, with the mother accused of the "sin of motherhood". From there, Chaplin's Tramp discovers the babe and quickly tries to get rid of it as swiftly as possible. These early sequences are sharp and hit the mark with impressive ease. Like much of The Kid, they're funny, but a bit grim at the same time.

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The film then jumps forward five years: the Tramp has now adopted the Kid and the much put-upon couple are coping with their impoverished life by staging money-making scams that get increasingly surreal.

From scrapping comically with a bully who's capable of punching holes in walls to battling off the authorities when they try to grab the Kid to take him to the orphanage, Chaplin delivers the mirth and heart in equal measure. The shifts in tone are jarring at times, but we are talking about film-making from over a century ago.

This edition of The Kid includes some scenes that were originally left on the cutting room floor until Chaplin himself re-edited the film in the early 1970s, when the star was in his early 80s. They're included here (minus soundtrack), but they're hardly essential – although they do add a bit of important back story to the child's poor mother.

The Kid was Charlie Chaplin's first full feature film
The Kid was Charlie Chaplin's first full feature film

As you'd expect, there's a wealth of extra material on offer here as well, from 1920s newsreels showing the fan worship for Chaplin in the UK to some neat archive interviews with the likes of Jackie Coogan, but it's the film itself that deserves centre stage here.

A solid gold comic classic that boasts a beating heart at its core, The Kid remains a hugely entertaining – if pretty brief, at around the hour mark – journey into the cinematic vision of Chaplin. The tagline for the film, 'A picture with a smile – and perhaps a tear', says it all, really.