There was really only one movie that could fit the bill for 1921 and though I’ve been on a Charlie Chaplin streak while cruising through the silent movie era, nothing comes close to the classic The Kid. Chaplin wrote, produced, directed, acted and scored the music for this movie which, almost 90 years after it debuted, still remains a classic that, as the opening title card reads, is, “A story with a smile… and perhaps a tear.”
The story begins with a young woman who went through an unplanned pregnancy and delivered a healthy baby boy. Her title card reads, “A woman who’s sin is motherhood.” One day she commits reckless child endangerment when she leaves the child in the backseat of her car and goes for a stroll. While sitting on a bench somewhere, two shady dudes steal her car. They make a stop at an alley to figure out what they’re doing and that’s when they hear the baby. Being evil no-good criminals, they dump the kid in an alley.
Along comes Chaplin for his morning stroll and after some hijinx, decides the kid is too freakin’ cute to ditch and decides to raise it as his own. Flash forward five years and Chaplin and the kid are now a grifting duo; the kid breaks people’s windows with rocks and Chaplin comes around and fixes them. We also learn that the woman has become a famous star and the baby’s daddy is a famous painter who, on one fortuitous meeting, asks for the woman’s forgiveness for causing her anguish all these years. Ladies, I think we know what the answer is here, right?
Midway through, a bully appears and steals the kid’s toys. A one-on-one fight ends up with the kid beating the bully to tears, literally. That’s when the bully’s brother appears, wearing a heavily-padded shirt to give us the illusion that he’s one buffed-out dude. He punches through walls and bends light posts with a single blow. And suddenly, through the magic of filmmaking, the woman appears to break up the fight. She tells Chaplin that the kid is ill and needs to see a doctor. (She doesn’t know the kid is hers.)
Chaplin tries to nurse the kid back to health, but the country doc wants to take the kid away and stick him in an orphange. More hijinx. Chaplin and the kid run away and spend the night in a hostel where the owner notices an ad in the newspaper for a $1,000 reward for the location of a lost child. He decides to kidnap the kid while he’s asleep. Chaplin wakes up to realize the kid is gone and goes out to search for him. He searches all night with no luck. He finally returns back to his home and falls asleep on the front steps and drifts into a dreamland where….
Everybody is an angel. And the street poles ar made of candy canes. Then three devils appear and start trouble and before you know if Chaplin and another angel are in a feather-dusting battle royale, which ends with the Angel Cop (which sounds like a lame superhero) pops three shots into Angel Chaplin. He dies. In the dream anyway. When he wakes up, the woman and the kid are at home, Chaplin is happy. The End…. Yeah. Kind of abrupt.
That been said, I liked the swelling horns and violins throughout the movie. They give the movie a sort of grandness and the story is filled with equal amounts of sentimentality and humor. I may love Shoulder Arms, but The Kid is not that far off the top of the list. Great movie. Tomorrow, the white man’s Zorro – Robin Hood.
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