The Kid (1921 film)

The Kid is a 1921 American silent comedy-drama film written by, produced by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin, and features Jackie Coogan[4] as his foundling baby, adopted son and sidekick. This was Chaplin's first full-length film as a director (he had been a co-star in 1914's Tillie's Punctured Romance). It was a huge success, and was the second-highest-grossing film in 1921, behind The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In 2011, The Kid was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Innovative in its combination of comedic and dramatic elements,[5] The Kid is widely considered one of the greatest films of the silent era.[6]

The Kid
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCharlie Chaplin
Produced byCharlie Chaplin
Written byCharlie Chaplin
Music byCharlie Chaplin (1972 re-release)
CinematographyR. H. Totheroh
Edited byCharlie Chaplin
Distributed byFirst National
Release date
  • January 21, 1921 (1921-01-21) (Premiere)
  • February 6, 1921 (1921-02-06)
Running time
  • 68 minutes[1](original cut)
  • 53 minutes[2] (1972 re-release)
CountryUnited States
Box office$5,450,000[3]


An unmarried mother (Edna Purviance) leaves a charity hospital with her newborn son; a short scene shows that the baby's apparent artist father (Carl Miller) has lost interest in her. With much anguish the mother abandons the child, placing him in an expensive automobile, with a handwritten note: "Please love and care for this orphan child". Two thieves steal the car and leave the baby in an alley, where he is found by The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin). After some slapstick attempts to hand the child off to various passersby, he finds the note and his heart melts. He takes the boy home, names him John and adjusts his household furniture for him. Meanwhile, the mother has a change of heart and returns for her baby but she learns that the car has been stolen and faints.

Five years pass. The Kid (Jackie Coogan) and the Tramp live in a wretched, tiny room; they have little money but much love. They are partners in minor crime: the Kid throws stones to break windows so that the Tramp, working as a glazier, can earn money repairing them. Meanwhile, the mother has become a wealthy actress. She does charity by giving presents to poor children. By chance, the mother and the Kid cross paths, but do not recognize each other.

When the Kid falls ill the mother advises to call a doctor. The doctor discovers that the Tramp is not the Kid's father, and notifies authorities. Two men come to take the boy to an orphanage, but after a fight and a chase, the Tramp regains the boy. When the mother comes back to see how the boy is doing she encounters the doctor, who shows her the note (which he had taken from the Tramp); she recognizes it as the one she left with her baby years ago.

Now fugitives, the Tramp and the boy spend the night in a flophouse. Its proprietor learns of a $1000 reward offered by the mother and takes the Kid to the police station, while the Tramp is asleep. As the tearful mother is reunited with her long-lost child, the Tramp searches frantically for the missing boy. Unsuccessful, he returns to the doorway of their humble home, where he falls asleep. He enters "Dreamland," where his neighbors have turned into angels and devils. He is awakened by a policeman, who leads him away, taking him to a mansion. The door is opened by the mother and the Kid, who jumps into the Tramp's arms. The policeman congratulates the Tramp and the mother welcomes the Tramp into her home.


  • Tom Wilson as The Policeman
  • Henry Bergman as Night shelter keeper / Professor Guido
  • Charles Reisner as Neighborhood bully
  • Raymond Lee as Bully's little brother
  • Lita Grey as Flirtatious Angel in Heaven scene
  • Jules Hanft as the country doctor
  • Frank Campeau as Welfare officer (*?questionable, he doesn't look like Campeau)
  • F. Blinn as Welfare officer's assistant
  • Jack H. Coogan Jr.[7] (father of Jackie Coogan) as Pickpocket / Guest / Devil
  • Granville Redmond as The Man's friend
  • May White as Edna's maid/Apartment owner with broken window
  • Silas Hathaway as Infant The Kid, the last surviving cast member
  • Albert Austin as Man in Shelter/The Car Thief
  • Esther Ralston as Extra in the Heaven Scene


The Kid is notable for combining comedy and drama. As the opening title says: "A picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear." Its most famous and enduring sequence is the Tramp's desperate rooftop pursuit of the truck taking the child to the orphanage, and their emotional reunion.

The film made Coogan, then a vaudeville performer, into the first major child star of the movies. Many of the Chaplin biographers have attributed the relationship portrayed in the film to have resulted from the death of Chaplin's firstborn infant son just ten days before the production began.[8] The portrayal of poverty and the cruelty of welfare workers are also directly reminiscent of Chaplin's own childhood in London. Several of the street scenes were filmed on Los Angeles's famed Olvera Street, almost 10 years before it was converted into a Mexican-themed tourist attraction.

After production was completed in 1920, the film was caught up in the divorce actions of Chaplin's first wife Mildred Harris, who sought to attach Chaplin's assets. Chaplin and his associates smuggled the raw negative to Salt Lake City (reportedly packed in coffee cans) and edited the film in a room at the Hotel Utah.[9] Before releasing the film Chaplin negotiated for and received an enhanced financial deal for the film with his distributor, First National Corporation, based on the success of the final film.

Twelve-year-old Lita Grey, who portrays an angel in the film, was Chaplin's second wife from 1924 to 1927.

In 1972, Chaplin edited and reissued the film and he composed a new musical score.

Chaplin and Coogan met for the last time in 1972, during Chaplin's brief return to America to receive an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime contribution to cinema.


The Kid was acclaimed by film critics upon its release.[10]

A reviewer from Theatre Magazine glowingly wrote, "[Chaplin's] new picture, The Kid, certainly outdoes in humor and the special brand of Chaplin pathos anything this popular film star has yet produced. There are almost as many tears as laughs in the new First National release--which proves the contention that Chaplin as almost as good a tragedian as he is a comedian. The Kid may be counted as a screen masterpiece."


Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance writes, of the legacy of Chaplin's The Kid: "The Kid remains an important contribution to the art of film, not only because of Chaplin’s innovative use of dramatic sequences within a feature-length comedy, but also because of the revelations The Kid provides about its creator. Undoubtedly, when Chaplin penned the preface to The Kid, “A picture with a smile--and perhaps, a tear,” he had his own artistic credo—and life—in mind."[11] Mary Pickford said of the film, "The Kid is one of the finest examples of the screen language, depending upon its actions rather than upon subtitles".[12]

In December 2011, The Kid was chosen to be preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.[13] The Registry said that the film is "an artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy" and praised Chaplin's ability to "sustain his artistry beyond the length of his usual short subjects and could deftly elicit a variety of emotions from his audiences by skillfully blending slapstick and pathos."[13]

As of June 2019, The Kid has earned a rare 100% perfect rating on film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.51/10.[14] and a 8.3 user rating on the Internet Movie Database, placing it at number 101 among the site's Top 250 Titles.[15]

As of 2019, Silas Hathaway, who played the titular Kid as a baby, is the last surviving member of the cast and crew.


In 1989, Charles Lane directed and starred in Sidewalk Stories, a remake of the film, updated to 1980s New York.

Some have called the 1999 comedy Big Daddy a loose remake of the film as well.[16]

In May 2017, it was announced that FilmNation Entertainment is remaking The Kid as an animated sci-fi movie. "The Kid, an animated adventure" will be directed by Christian Volckman and Rupert Wyatt and is "inspired by the characters and themes in The Kid."[17] As of 2019 it was still in development.[18]

See also


  1. "THE KID (U) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. January 5, 1922. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  2. "THE KID (U)". British Board of Film Classification. October 15, 1957. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  3. Box office at IMDB accessed January 27 2017
  4. "Today in Media History: Thumbs Up? In 1921 newspapers reviewed Charlie Chaplin's movie, 'The Kid'". Poynter. Archived from the original on December 24, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
  5. Chaplin, pp. 233–234.
  6. 300 Greatest Films by Decade - AMC Filmsite Retrieved 8 February 2015
  7. "Research into genealogy of Jackie Coogan". Coogan Research Group. October 26, 2013. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  8. Kamin, Dan (September 5, 2008). The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion. Scarecrow Press. p. 92. ISBN 9780810877818.
  9. "Charlie Chaplin Can't Dodge Newspaper Men". Deseret News. August 9, 1920. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  10. Passafiume, Andrea. "The Kid (1921)". Turner Classic Movies, Inc. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  11. Vance, Jeffrey (2003). Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. New York: Harry N. Abrams, pg. 117. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0.
  12. Howe, Herbert (January 1924). "Mary Pickford's Favorite Stars and Films". Photoplay. New York: Photoplay Publishing Company. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  13. "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates" (Press release). Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  14. The Kid at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. "IMDb Top 250". IMDb. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  16. Ebert, Roger (June 25, 1999). "Big Daddy Movie Review". Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  17. Keslassy, Elsa (May 16, 2017). "FilmNation Ventures Into Animation with Sci-Fi Reimagining of Chaplin's 'The Kid' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  18. "The Kid, an animated adventure". Superprod Films (in French). n.d. Retrieved November 20, 2019.
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