Pick of the Week: The Kid (Criterion)
Charlie Chaplin was a star well before he made 1921’s The Kid, his first feature film, thanks to a string of wildly successful two-reel comedies featuring his iconic Tramp character, in which he starred and served as writer/director. But nothing guaranteed that stardom would last. Chaplin’s most recent efforts, in which he’d attempted to branch out beyond The Tramp, had been coolly received and he was behind schedule on the slate of films he promised to deliver to his distributor. He was in the midst of an extremely tumultuous period in his personal life as well, having recently lost an infant child. Nonetheless, with The Kid he turned out the longest, most ambitious, and most emotionally complex film of his career to date.
As much melodrama as comedy, The Kid finds Chaplin’s Tramp caring for a boy (Jackie Coogan) abandoned by his single mother, a premise from which Chaplin draws comedy and pathos in equal measures, whether depicting the boy and his surrogate dad practicing genteel manners while digging into the most meager of feasts or an extended fantasy sequence in which the Tramp’s slum becomes a Heaven. Chaplin would make even better films down the line, but The Kid‘s mix of laughter and tears — a stated goal of the opening title card — is the filmmaker in quintessence.
Typically, Criterion has filled out the film with a rich assortment of extras, including an informative commentary track from Chaplin expert Charles Maland and a neat look at how silent filmmakers achieved odd effects by changing up the speeds at which they cranked cameras.