You knew this day would come.
You knew, deep down, that one day we would try to sell you on a silent film.
The movie we’re thinking of is The Kid, the 1921 comedy-drama that helped make Charlie Chaplin a superstar. Yes, this is a silent film, an old silent film, without talking or explosions or colour. But hear us out.
Chaplin is the famous mustachioed tramp, with his crazy spun-out hair and floppy feet. He chances upon an abandoned baby boy whom he takes home and decides to raise as his own.
The boy is Jackie Coogan, the most adorable thing you’ve seen on film. He has sweet soulful eyes and a serious expression, and when the authorities take him away from Chaplin, he tears your heart in two.
That apprehension scene is possibly one of the most celebrated in classic film. Here is Coogan, in his large, natty sweater and grimy over-sized trousers, standing in the back of a truck with arms outstretched, tears streaking his cheeks, pleading to go back to his father. (Oh dear – we need a tissue.)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The movie opens with a despondent young woman (Edna Purviance), who has just given birth to a baby boy. She has been abandoned by a cold-hearted man, who has left her poor and alone. She feels she has no choice but to give up her son in the hopes that someone else can give the poor lil’ guy a real shot in life.
Fast-forward five years. Purviance is now a rich and famous actress, but she also loves to do charity work in the slums where Chaplin lives. (We are not sure what social workers today would think of her charity efforts – e.g. holding a baby for 23 seconds before handing it back to its mother – but it is evident she truly loves these woe-begotten children. Plus, she has a fabulous beaded handbag that looks really smart with every outfit.)
Then she discovers that one of the slum children is her long-lost son. She offers a reward of $1,000 for his return, which is a lot of money to every single character in this film. This is where things start to get a little frantic.
Forget that there is no sound, except an exquisitely restored musical score by Timothy Brock. The Kid is gorgeously filmed with clever special effects. (Yes, special effects! In 1921! We couldn’t believe it either!)
Now, this movie is only 60 minutes long and when it’s finished you can’t believe it’s over so soon. We’re serious! The plight of the abandoned young mother and Chaplin’s endearing character suck you in at the beginning; the chemistry between Chaplin and Coogan entertain for the duration. When film concludes, you’ll say, “What? Over already?”
If you have an hour and want to see why Charlie Chaplin became a legend, watch The Kid. It will change the way you think about silent movies.
The Kid: starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan Edna Purviance. Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. Associated First National Pictures, B&W, 1921, 60 mins.