The Kid (1921)

I’ve maintained for a while that Chaplin (not unlike George Lucas) was arguably not the best judge of his own legacy, in that some of the decisions he made about presenting his films later in life strike me as questionable at best. For example, cutting nearly 20 minutes from The Kid for reissue in 1971. For a film that only ran 68 minutes in the first place, that always struck me as an extreme move. So I made a point of hunting up a copy of the long version, and, well, knowing what I now know about the scenes he cut, maybe the later version didn’t lose that much after all? I don’t know. At any rate, The Kid was Chaplin’s first feature (Tillie’s Punctured Romance was hardly “his”), and the opening title about it being “a picture with a smile and perhaps a tear” serves as a sort of mission statement… I’m not sure how Chaplin’s preferred 50-minute version compares, but this one certainly comes across less as a comedy than as a drama with funny bits. I know that the admixture of humour and pathos is his signature in many ways, and he’d already done some things in that vein, but I’m not sure he nails it here. To be fair, though, I should add that the print I saw was a mute one, and the lack of a score probably affected my reception of the film. It must also be said that the comic business is great, particularly the extended battle between him and Charles Riesner, and even if the tonal mix isn’t quite right Chaplin still evinces few difficulties with the longer format (plus Jackie Coogan—how in hell did this adorable child become Uncle Fester?—is an excellent co-star). Plus it plugs a not insignificant hole in my acquaintance with Chaplin’s filmography, meaning I now only need to see his last two films and I’ll have seen the lot. It really is good, I just think if the print I saw had a score I’d have got into it even more.

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