Some time after the halfway point in The Kid, it becomes clear the film isn’t going to end badly for its leads. Charlie Chaplin is the tramp, Jackie Coogan is his ward (a tramp in training). Chaplin, as a director, is fairly restrictive. Most of the action takes place on a few streets, primarily outside their apartment. Coogan breaks windows, Chaplin fixes them. They cook for each other. It’s adorable, if only because Coogan’s really cute and Chaplin’s very sincere in his performance as the unlikely caregiver.
But there’s not much depth to the relationship. Chaplin knows how to get an effective scene–he looks into the camera, sad, Coogan screams for him–but none of the scenes come off as honest. There’s an artifice to them. The Kid is pleasant enough to watch as the artifice is competent and the performances sincere, but Chaplin–as director–gets a lot more mileage out of scenes where he loses track of Coogan than ones with him.
With the notable exception of a rooftop chase sequence (Chaplin’s on the rooftop, Coogan’s in a car).
But when Chaplin’s unknowingly flirting with the local beat cop’s wife or trying to get out of a fight with the neighborhood bully? Those moments have a lot more creative energy.
Maybe it never really feels like Coogan’s part of the gag. Sometimes he is the gag.
And the ending is way too nice; following a Heaven-set dream sequence, it’s narratively awkward.
But The Kid is all right. Enough.
Written, edited, produced and directed by Charles Chaplin; director of photography, Roland Totheroh; music by Chaplin; released by First National Pictures.
Starring Edna Purviance (The Woman), Jackie Coogan (The Child) and Charles Chaplin (A Tramp).