The Kid (1921)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Kid</strong> (1921)

(Kanopy streaming, October 2018) Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, his first full-length motion picture, holds a special place in cinema history. It’s often mentioned as among Chaplin’s finest works and one of the films of the early 1920s that truly codified what audiences could expect of cinema as an ongoing art-form. It’s early-adopter status can perhaps be best seen in the unapologetic highs and lows of its emotional manipulation. Chaplin doesn’t hold anything back as he spends much of the film going for child-endangerment themes and gags—the first few minutes are especially punishing as a newborn becomes the object of rather tasteless abandonment comedy. Chaplin did distinguish himself from other comedians by being willing to fight for his audience’s tears as a counterpart to their laughs, but to modern audiences accustomed to a more even emotional tone (and unused to such reckless treatment of younger characters), The Kid can be a bit tough to digest. It doesn’t help that even at a relatively slim 68 minutes (even shorter in its re-edited 1971 version), the film does overstay its welcome toward the end, with an oneiric sequence that seems even less integrated in the rest of the film than the other episodes. The Kid is still worth a look today for historical reasons, and it does pack some entertainment along the way. But don’t be surprised to be put off by some of the material.

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