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Film / The Kid (1921)

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"A picture with a smile, and perhaps a tear..."
Opening title card
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An unwed mother leaves a charity hospital, clutching her newborn son. Alone in the world, she decides that she can't look after the baby, so she leaves him in a fancy car outside a mansion, with a note pinned to his blanket asking the rich folks to take care of him. Very soon after, she thinks better of it. She races back to the car, but the car is gone, stolen by a couple of hoodlums. When the hoodlums find a baby in the car they ditch him in the alley, where he is found by...the Tramp. After trying a couple of times to get rid of the baby but failing, Charlie brings him home to his grimy little attic garret, and soon they are a family. But Child Services is a problem, as is the mother, now a famous actress, who is still looking for her little boy.

Charlie Chaplin's The Kid was his first feature film. It is considered the first Dramedy, mixing Chaplinesque slapstick with dramatic moments and heart. It was a huge hit and remains one of his best-remembered films. It also made Jackie Coogan a big star at the age of six, making him the first true child star in American movie history. Over four decades after this film, Coogan would play Uncle Fester on the original The Addams Family series. After Chaplin received his lifetime achievement Academy Award in 1972, he told Coogan "I think I would rather see you right now than anyone else."

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Has a place in the National Film Registry. Not to be confused with a totally unrelated film starring Bruce Willis.


This film provides examples of:

  • Action Dad: The Tramp turns into one when the Kid is taken.
  • Brats with Slingshots: John helps Charlie make a living as a glass salesman by breaking people's windows with rocks and running away just before Charlie arrives on the scene with some glass to sell.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: The mother, but it's too late.
  • Curtain Clothing: A variant where the tramp uses the bed sheet as clothing.
  • Department of Child Disservices: The evil Social Service workers who want to separate Chaplin from John.
  • Doorstop Baby: Classic example, just the baby wasn't exactly left on someone's porch. His mother left him in what she thought was a car of a rich family, but it was stolen by a couple of criminals. When the criminals discovered the baby, they dropped him off in an alley next to a trash can, where Charlie finds him.
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  • Dramedy: As mentioned previously, this was one of the first times the two genres were ever blended on film.
  • Dream Sequence / Dream Ballet: A singularly bizarre scene. Charlie falls asleep and has a dream where he's suddenly an angel, and dances with a lot of women dressed as angels until people dressed as demons come in and tempt everyone to evil. It comes out of nowhere and has nothing to do with the actual plot, and of course, sealing the deal, he wakes up and the movie continues as normal. Chaplin's longer films often had randomly inserted nonsensical dream sequences.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: All three of them have their fair share of grief, but in the end, the mother reunites with her son and asks Charlie into her house as well, strongly implying John and his adoptive father won't be split up.
  • The Fagin: Justified; Charlie was literally unable to get rid of the baby when he found it, for it was returned to him every time he tried to abandon it. Eventually, Charlie became attached to John and became the Papa Wolf variety of this trope.
  • Fainting: The mother, on realizing that her newborn went with the car hijackers.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Poor little John.
  • Hello Again, Officer: A common trope for Chaplin. After their initial encounter, the tramp bumps into the local policeman again when trying to place the baby in the stroller and once again when fooling around with his wife.
  • Informed Ability: We are told through title cards that the mother is a successful artist of some kind.
  • Instant Illness: John is feeling feisty enough to beat up a kid twice his size. Not more than ten minutes later, he is severely ill, sick enough that his mother (not that anyone knows that) has to carry him back to Charlie.
  • Iris Out: Used to fade out a couple of scenes.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Apparently. Having resigned himself to being stuck with a baby, Charlie takes the infant into what is obviously the corner whorehouse. He leaves with a couple extra blankets wrapped around the baby, and one of the whores asks "what's his name?", whereupon Charlie answers with "John".
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Possibly mandatory in a Chaplin film. Here he kicks the behind of a local tough after John beats up the tough's little brother.
  • Look Behind You: That's how the kid manages to distract the policeman.
  • Missed Him by That Much: John's mother actually comes to the slum John is living in to do charity work and sees him, but has no way of knowing that it's the son she abandoned five years before.
  • Mood Whiplash: The comedic bully fight in the street is followed by the tragic Instant Illness. The shift is underpinned by a sudden change in score.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The mother changes her mind very soon after abandoning the baby and frantically rushes back for him, but it's already too late.
  • Nuclear Candle: At the night shelter, two flames lighten up the entire room.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The note the Tramp keeps from the mother. It later finds its way back to her, setting in motion the reuniting of mother and child.
  • Papa Wolf: The Tramp, when an official from a local orphanage takes the Kid away.
  • Parental Abandonment: Played very sympathetically, as the mother is unwed (which, back when this movie was made, was considered shocking, especially if you were white) and doesn't have the money to care for the child herself. Note also that she leaves him in a fancy car before a fancy mansion, hoping that he'd be raised by rich people and be well-off.
  • Poverty Food: At one point the Tramp dishes up an undefinable mass from a disgustingly messy pot.
  • Re-Cut: The original film was 1 hour, 8 minutes long. When Chaplin re-edited it and added an original score in 1971, he excised eight minutes of footage. The principal difference is a scene where the mother reconciles with John's father, a scene that is missing from the "authorized" version but can be found in the various public domain prints.
  • Roof Hopping: The infamous roof-chase scene in which Charlie out-runs a policeman to try and save John from being taken away.
  • Society Marches On: If the mother had abandoned her kid today (like leaving him in a stranger's car), she would probably have suffered a lawsuit and forced child care for her son anyway. An episode of Chicago Hope stressed this point, where a young mother left her newborn child in a trashcan. She was deemed unfit to take care of it by rule of law.
  • Tap on the Head: The police officer gets punched out for minutes by the big Bully.
  • Time Skip: Five years pass between the beginning of the film when Chaplin finds the baby to the rest of the film.
  • The Tramp: That's him! Although he technically isn't a tramp here, as he has a place to live, tiny and dirty as it is.
  • Vanilla Edition: It's pretty easy to find anywhere, and cheap too. Public domain films are like that.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: The owner of the night shelter identifies the Tramp and the kid when noticing the Wanted ad in the newspaper.
  • When Elders Attack: The old nanny beating up the Tramp for trying to drop the baby into her carriage.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: The Tramp lives in such a neighborhood.

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