Criterion Collection: The Kid | Blu-ray Review
Outfitted with a new score and title sequence, reedited sans several scenes involving the woman, and rereleased in 1972, Charlie Chaplin’s first feature length film The Kid has finally made its way to home video in HD thanks to the Cineteca di Bologna’s gloriously meticulous restoration and 4k digital transfer. Originally released back in 1921 after about a half decade of acting and eventually directing wildly popular shorts for Keystone Studios, the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company and finally the Mutual Film Corporation, the film endured a year long production amidst personal and professional crisis. It was thought that Chaplin’s signature brand of comedic slapstick, which typically ran just two reels of film, could not support the length of a six reel feature, but as is evidenced within, the film perfectly fuses Chaplin’s penchant for melodrama with his masterful vaudevillian humor to create an astonishingly emotional comedy that plumbs the depths of connection between father and son, adopted or not.
Centered around the incredible debut screen performance of soon-to-be child star Jackie Coogan in the eponymous role, Chaplin’s first feature tells the tale of an orphan who was abandoned by his mother (herself abandoned by her lover), only to be found by the little Tramp himself. Originally, mortified at the prospects of raising a child, Chaplin’s beloved character attempts to relieve himself of fatherly duties by passing the orphaned infant onto a passing mother, discarding him with the garbage in an ally, or even going so far as to contemplate dumping the baby down a sewer drain, but after being foiled by watchful eyes, he takes him in and quickly develops the warmth of parental love for the child.
One part playful slapstick, one part sentimentalist melodrama, The Kid is unabashedly maudlin in its ambitions to reach beyond the norms of early silent film comedy. In Coogan, Chaplin found a perfect on-screen father-son companionship, with the 5 year old’s talents for mimicry immediately apparent and his abilities to emote seemingly effortless with the camera rolling. Off screen, Chaplin was processing the death of his first infant son, while trying to keep his quickly failing first marriage to Mildred Harris afloat. And with First National getting antsy at the unprecedented extended production, Chaplin halted the shoot to wet their appetite with a two reel short that would become A Day’s Pleasure before finally wrapping The Kid nine months after the first day of production begin.
Chaplin’s preoccupations with the plight of orphaned children makes a whole lot of sense when considering his personal situation at the time and his own troubled childhood, having grown up on the brink of destitution with only his brother to lean on for reliable support, but despite these rather dark intimations, he perfectly balances with heart, humor and one wild, evil infested dream sequence that awkwardly hints at his future romantic interest in Lita Grey, who would be come his second wife at 16, playing here a flirty (12 year old) angel. Regardless, The Kid stands as a monumental turning point, not only for Chaplin as an artist and craftsman, but for comedy cinema as a whole. Chaplin’s first feature paved the way for all comedies to follow, gleaning for them a much needed emotional and narrative respectability that stemmed from his unique ability to meld his immense physical comedy and character with real social issues that the public was hungry to embrace.
It’s absolutely astonishing to think that this film was released nearly 100 years ago, and yet, this new restoration and 4k transfer thanks to Cineteca di Bologna, Chaplin’s first feature looks jaw-droppingly crisp, with contrast perfectly in tune, and details sharper than one might imagine is possible with a film of such age. In motion, it often looks immaculate. In a handful of scenes there is evidence of light scratching or discoloration, but overall, the restoration is nothing short of incredible. Likewise, the uncompressed monaural audio track sounds fantastic, and possesses the occasional sound effect that must have been added upon the 1972 rerelease.
Audio Commentary by Chaplin historian Charles Maland
The author of Chaplin and American Culture and the BFI Classics book on City Lights imparts an immense amount of fascinating background information on both the production and the film’s context within the greater Chaplin oeuvre. Amongst the copious included extras, this is among the best.
Jackie Coogan: The First Child Star
This new video essay by Chaplin historian Lisa Haven reveals how Coogan became such a widly popular young star, along with the tragedies that haunted his upbringing. 19 min
A Study in Undercranking
Featuring silent-film specialist Ben Model, this revealing piece pulls back the veil on just how Chaplin and other silent comedians created gags that could only work within the silent film era. 25 min
Included here are pieces with Jackie Coogan (11 min), actor Lita Grey Chaplin (10 min), and excerpted audio interviews with cinematographer Rollie Totheroh (8 min) and film distributor Mo Rothman (10 min), each discussing their experiences working with Chaplin.
Deleted Scenes and Titles from the Original 1921 version of ‘The Kid’
Unlike Criterion’s release of The Gold Rush, which included various release versions of the film one could compare with one another, here the scenes are merely excised and allowed to be viewed separately, rather than as a whole within the context of the original 1921 edit of the film. That said, each scene is given a bit of lead in and out to give context to where it previously existed, and the scenes also benefit from the same immaculate restoration work as the feature as a whole. 13 min
“Charlie” on the Ocean
Composed of fairly rough newsreels documenting Chaplin’s first return trip to Europe in 1921, we see the star swamped by fans everywhere he went. 4 min
Footage of Chaplin conducting his score for The Kid
This brief glimpse of Chaplin guest conducting in 1971 is a heartwarming bit of nostalgia. 2 min
Nice and Friendly
A 1922 silent short shot at the home of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks featuring Chaplin and Coogan, presented with a new score by composer Timothy Brock. It doesn’t look as lovely at newly restored The Kid, but its fun none-the-less. 11 min
Included here are a trio of trailers for the 1972 reissue double bill along with the short, The Idle Class. In various states of disrepair and various languages, each remains kind of lovable. 5 min
Centered around an astute essay by film scholar Tom Gunning and a beautiful selection of production stills, this leaflet folds out and contains the usual credits and transfer details you’d expect from Criterion.
What more could be said? Every single one of Chaplin’s features is a classic, but The Kid is his first, and one of his greatest in terms of personal progression and artistic ambition – plus, one of the most emotionally heartwrenching child performances ever put to celluloid. Cineteca di Bologna’s restoration via Criterion’s Blu-ray release is nothing short of a revelation. Even after nearly a hundred years, it’s unimaginable that the film has ever looked better.