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Warner Home Video presents
The Kid (1921)

"Please love and care for this orphan child."
- a written plea from The Kid's distraught mother

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: June 03, 2004

Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance
Director: Charles Chaplin

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 50m:20s
Release Date: March 02, 2004
UPC: 085393764524
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BA-B+ A

DVD Review

The Kid may not be Charlie Chaplin's best known film, but many critics cite it as his most affecting and meticulously produced work. A sensation when first released, this 1921 classic broke new ground, seamlessly merging physical comedy with wrenching emotion, and made ragamuffin Jackie Coogan (whom Chaplin discovered) an instant international star. The Kid also arguably inspired such later films as The Champ and even Three Men and a Baby with its simple tale of a tramp's undying love for an orphan child.

Chaplin, of course, portrays the inimitable tramp, but the story begins hours before he discovers the abandoned baby in a garbage-strewn alley. Feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, the child's unwed mother (Edna Purviance) puts her infant's interests ahead of her own when she tearfully leaves her son in a fancy parked car, hoping he might be adopted by a wealthy family. In a cruel twist of fate, two thugs steal the car, unaware of the cargo it contains. The thieves drive to a nearby slum, where the baby's piercing cries hurl them into a panic, and they discard "the kid" near a pile of trash. The Tramp soon discovers the bundle of joy, and at first tries to pawn off the infant on neighbors and passersby. Yet when he reads the note pinned to the baby's blanket—"Please love and care for this orphan child"—he can no longer shirk responsibility, and he becomes the boy's surrogate father. The Tramp's first attempts at parenthood are hilarious and typically Chaplinesque, as he attaches a nipple to the spout of a coffee pot to feed the baby (whom he names John), and sits the little tyke in an elaborately hung sling. Although his methods may be unorthodox, his burgeoning paternal affection is indisputable.

Five years pass and a deep bond develops between The Tramp and John (Coogan) that transcends their domestic lives. To make money, the pair concocts a surprisingly effective scam: The Kid goes around the neighborhood breaking windows only to have The Tramp "coincidentally" arrive on the scene a few minutes later offering to fix the shattered glass. Little do they know, however, that their idylic lives will soon be shattered as well, when John catches a fever and an overzealous doctor comes to treat it. The doctor disapproves of The Tramp's ramshackle flat and questions his parental claim. In the film's most emotional scene, The Kid is ripped from The Tramp's arms and taken away.

Meanwhile, John's mother has become a renowned opera singer and unknowingly comes into contact with John while doing charity work in the slums. She witnesses child welfare authorities whisking John away, then discovers the discarded slip of paper she wrote years ago, imploring a kind soul to look after her baby. All at once, she realizes John is her long-lost son and seeks to reclaim him.

From the above description, The Kid sounds more like a four-handkerchief soap opera than a slapstick comedy, but Chaplin marvelously weaves together the two genres and offsets tears with laughter—and vice versa. All of Chaplin's comedy (some of which is a bit tedious and drawn out) emanates from the characters, and this overriding sense of humanity makes the dramatic interludes seem natural. Sure, the film manipulates our feelings, but the overlapping comedy and drama rarely feels jarring or uncomfortable.

A mere 50 minutes, The Kid seems all too brief by today's bloated standards, yet the movie marked Chaplin's first foray into feature-length films. The actor/director had previously produced only short subjects, and he spent almost an entire year shooting—and endlessly reshooting—The Kid. His effort and dedication show, and although parts of the film (especially a bizarre dream sequence at the end) don't hold up particularly well, the picture possesses a smooth flow and much more substance than most comedies of the period.

Still, it's the emotional bond between The Tramp and The Kid that holds the picture together, and, at times, the pathos works better than the pratfalls. With his wide eyes and page-boy haircut, Coogan easily melts hearts. Chaplin, however, doesn't try to compete, playing his role as straight as the situations allow, and the result is a multi-layered performance that outshines the timeworn plot. Together, the two enjoy a lovely rapport that never seems forced or stilted, and their genuine mutual affection lends this sweet, innocuous film a warmth and resonance that hasn't faded over the course of eight decades.

Not bad for a tramp and a ragamuffin.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Chaplin directed The Kid 83 years ago, but the vibrant, beautifully restored transfer from Warner and mk2 éditions make many of those years melt away. Contrast is far better than one might imagine for a film of this vintage, with inky blacks and a wide gray scale making details easy to discern. A few jump cuts and missed frames (typical of silent films) interrupt the movie's fluidity, and a slight degree of fuzziness and a few minimal print defects can be occasionally detected, but none of these factors ever disrupt enjoyment. All in all, this is a truly remarkable effort that will thrill Chaplin aficionados.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: In 1971, Chaplin composed an original score for The Kid, and the rendering here is rich with fidelity and presence. Although the music doesn't envelop as much as one might hope, the DD 5.1 track lends the film a more contemporary feel than most silent features. The film employs only a smattering of audio effects, but the sound of breaking glass adds a spark of realism to the movie without seeming out of place.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Woman of Paris, The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King in New York, The Chaplin Revue
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. My Boy (1921), starring Jackie Coogan
  2. How To Make Movies (1918), a Chaplin short
  3. Nice and Friendly (1922), a Chaplin/Coogan short
  4. Newsreel clips
  5. Photo gallery and poster collection
Extras Review: Warner's two-disc special edition for The Kid contains plenty of fascinating extras sure to delight and inform Chaplin's many fans. All the supplements are housed on Disc 2 and begin with a six-minute introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson. He begins by telling us that many of Chaplin's admirers believe The Kid to be the actor/director's "most perfect and most personal film," and that the meticulous Chaplin spent nine months on the project, constantly revising and reshooting various sequences. Robinson touches upon Chaplin's misguided marriage to a 17-year-old actress with whom he had little in common, and how their turbulent relationship and tragic pregnancy influenced production. He also briefly discusses the career of child star Jackie Coogan (whom Chaplin discovered) and how his parents' mismanagement of his considerable earnings left him practically destitute by the time his fame faded in his teenage years. (Coogan eventually rebounded and the adorable child went on to achieve adult renown as the grotesque Uncle Fester in The Addams Family TV series.)

Next up is the absorbing 26-minute documentary, Chaplin Today: The Kid, which chronicles the film's production through extensive clips, rare behind-the-scenes footage, archival documents, and home movies. We learn about the lack of inspiration that plagued Chaplin prior to beginning the film, and how The Kid helped The Tramp evolve into a more substantial character, and Chaplin into a more substantive filmmaker. The profile also addresses Chaplin's maddening perfectionism, his numerous romances, his disastrous marriage to Mildred Harris and their subsequent messy divorce (which forced him to edit The Kid in secret), and the parallels between The Kid and Chaplin's own troubled childhood. The documentary's last 10 minutes focus on Chaplin's popularity in Iran and how his movies have influenced renowned Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.

When Chaplin composed the film's score in 1971, he also deleted three scenes from The Kid, which further developed the character of John's mother. The scenes, totaling six minutes, show the mother's devotion to the child she abandons, and a bittersweet reunion with the boy's father. How To Make Movies is a 16-minute film from 1918 in which Chaplin—through stop-action photography—details the construction of his very own movie studio, then comically chronicles a typical day's shooting. Amid the amiable antics, we witness some straightforward procedures, including the primitive process of film developing and editing. The film ends with Chaplin transforming himself into The Tramp and performing a couple of routines on the golf course.

My Boy, produced shortly after The Kid, is a Jackie Coogan vehicle designed to capitalize on the tot's instant renown. He reprises his ragamuffin role (even his shabby costume looks identical to the one he wore in The Kid), this time as an orphaned immigrant boy who befriends a grizzled and sickly old seaman in Lower Manhattan. The scrappy kid survives by the seat of his pants, finally winning the old man's affection just when he oh-so-conveniently discovers he has a rich grandmother who's been ceaselessly searching for him ever since she heard of his mother's death. The 55-minute film provides Coogan with ample opportunities to cry, mope, and mug for the camera, and he maximizes every one of them. He effortlessly carries the film and his adorable performance makes it easy to understand his massive audience appeal. Sadly, the movie looks like it's crumbling before our eyes; it also lacks a soundtrack, and watching My Boy in deafening silence proves just how much mood music enhances motion pictures.

In the Documents section, we're treated to several rare film snippets that enhance our enjoyment of The Kid. Jackie Coogan Dances (1920) shows the child actor performing outdoors for cast, crew, and visitors during the film's production, while Nice and Friendly (1922), an 11-minute home movie, teams Chaplin and Coogan with no less than Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten for a comedic caper about a coveted pearl necklace. Charlie on the Ocean (1921) is a four-minute newsreel chronicle of Chaplin's voyage to his native England aboard the White Star liner Olympic. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford bid him farewell in New York, then we see Chaplin entertain fans during the crossing, arrive in London, and greet a cheering throng of press and admirers. Equally brief, the two-minute Jackie Coogan in Paris (1924) follows the child star on a charity fund-raising trip to the City of Light. The only clip with sound, Recording the New Score (1971) rounds out the offerings with footage of an aged Chaplin conducting his newly written score for The Kid.

Eight minutes of trailers (which run continuously) feature both American and German previews for The Kid, while a Photo Gallery presents 45 rare stills—most are behind-the-scenes production shots, but the final few document a 1935 reunion between Chaplin (dressed as The Tramp) and a grown-up Coogan. The disc also includes 20 film posters for The Kid from such countries as the U.S., France, Spain, Germany, Argentina, and The Netherlands. Finally, a 12-minute promo piece for Warner's The Chaplin Collection completes the supplements.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The Kid was a landmark achievement for Charlie Chaplin, and Warner does the film proud with a lavish two-disc presentation, featuring a gorgeous image transfer and fascinating supplements. While the movie itself can't shake its dated elements and brazen emotional manipulations, it remains a triumph for Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, and fans of The Tramp, silent comedies, and film history will welcome its release.


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