A Summary and Review of The Kid

A Summary and Review of The Kid

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  1. The Kid (1921)

    Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
    Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan


    The Kid is Charlie Chaplin’s first feature-length film and his first masterpiece, as well as being his second film to be included in the National Film Registry, which is a high honor.

    Unlike Charlie’s other masterpieces, The Kid was produced while Charlie was under contract at First National Pictures. He would produce all of his later films, but he did not have full creative control of his films at that time. Despite this, he was still able to create great work at his time with First National.


    Note: There are two versions of this film: the original, and the 1971 re-issued version that has some scenes cut. The differences will be discussed when it comes up.

    The film begins with an unwed mother, who has just given birth to a son. She feels like she is not fit to take care of a child and seeing as the father has left her, she decides to give the child away. She leaves the baby in the back of an expensive car, thinking that the people who own it would be fit to take care of the child. She leaves a note and walks away.

    Soon after, a couple of thieves break into the car and drive off. When they see the baby in the back seat, they stop over, drop the baby in an alley, and walk away.  Charlie Chaplin plays his trademark character, the destitute Little Tramp, who is walking along the streets looking for food. He starts looking in dumpsters in an alleyway, and is surprised to find the baby. He tries to find whoever left it there but he can’t seem to find out what had happened. He does find the note left by the mother, where she requests the finder of the baby to take care of him. Charlie decides that he must accept this new responsibility and takes the child to his small meager home.

    This is one scene that was cut in the re-issued version. The mother has had second thoughts about leaving her child and tries to find the car she had left him in. When she finds it gone, she asks around and searches everywhere but can’t find him.

    Five years later, the boy (whom Charlie named John) and his father are thick as thieves. Their love for each other is pure and beautiful. John even helps Charlie at work where Charlie would break a window, run away, and then Charlie would happen to walk by offering window repair services.

    Meanwhile, the mother has actually grown quite rich since abandoning her child. She has become a famous actress. Here is another cut scene that was only in the original version. One night while at a party, she runs into her old husband (the father of the child) who has also become famous, as an artist. He asks her about the baby and she reveals that she gave him away. She also admits that she regrets it greatly and has been trying to find him.

    She has not forgotten where she came from however, and she often visits the ghettos to donate toys to the children. She unknowingly runs into her own son and gives him a toy. He is very sweet and grateful to her. A local bully tries to take the toy away but John defends himself and they break out into a fistfight. The little boy manages to beat the bully, but is Charlie is worried about his health and calls the doctor.

    The doctor takes a look at the boy and he turns out to be fine. However, when the doctor finds out Charlie is not John’s real father; he becomes worried for John’s well-being. Charlie shows him the note and tries to explain. The doctor leaves but comes back with people from an orphanage and they take John away. Charlie and John are completely devastated but Charlie manages to chase after the men and take his boy back.

    In the mean time, the mother remembers the sweet little boy whom she had given the toy to and she comes back to visit him. She walks in to find the doctor and other officials. When she asks what has been going on, the doctor reveals everything and shows her the note that Charlie had showed him. She is stunned when she recognizes the note and realizes the truth. She immediately goes looking for him but when she can’t find him; she offers a reward in the newspaper for anyone who brings the boy to her.

    Not being able to return home, they take refuge in a flophouse, which is a term that refers to places that offer very cheap housing. The manager soon finds John’s picture in the newspaper and steals him away while they are sleeping. Charlie wakes in the middle of the night and is overwhelmed when he can’t find him.

    Feeling defeated, he goes back home and falls asleep at the door of his house. He dreams of angels and John and even demons. He wakes to find a policeman trying to shake him awake. Without explaining, the policeman throws him into his car and drives off. He takes Charlie to a house he doesn’t recognize and the policeman marches him up to the front door. The door opens and John and the mother are there waiting for him. They all embrace each other with joy and glee and close the door behind them as the smiling policeman skips back into his car.


    The Kid features one of the most achingly beautiful stories and produces some of the greatest moments in not only Charlie’s career, but in movie history. Its perfect blend of heart-rending drama and hilarious slapstick is legendary. The Kid is the very first feature film of its kind to blend these genres in that way. It’s what made Charlie Chaplin a legend. The Kid is a masterfully crafted story, with such a painfully beautiful score, and stupendous performances that all culminates into one of the most emotionally captivating films of all time.

    The film is just one of Charlie’s best. In a way, it paved the road for Charlie to create some of his other absolute masterpieces. And in that same way, it’s not perfect. But it’s a wholly enthralling experience, one that feels like perfection. It’s not one of Charlie’s funniest, but it’s actually more of a film that focuses on the story. There are loads of incredibly hilarious moments, but it’s when the film gets down to the grit of the story that it really shines. There’s an astounding blend of drama and comedy, but it actually doesn’t feel as balanced as Charlie’s absolute best. But that’s no reason to knock down this film. It’s definitely up there with his best.

    Not only is the story absolutely captivating, but so are the performances. Charlie shows us his tender side, and it’s probably the reason why there have been so many modern-day comedians that go on to do dramatic roles. Charlie showed them how. He is astronomical in his delivery and commitment to the role. Little Jackie Coogan was one of the first child stars in Hollywood history, and his role here justifies that greatly. He is an absolute joy and the way Charlie interacts with him is simply magical.

    The Kid is also one of the first films that he composed the score for, and what a way to introduce your composing talent. The score for The Kid is indescribably beautiful and only exemplifies the most incredible moments. Charlie rips open your chest with his story, clutches at your heart with his performance, and then viciously rips it out with his music. Charlie Chaplin was a grandmaster of film.

    The Kid is Charlie’s first real masterpiece. It’s his first film that is so unbelievably beautiful and funny at the same time, that you can almost feel the genius of Charlie Chaplin exuding from this film. It’s simply a triumph of cinematic beauty.

    RATING: 100/100

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