I've always thought there's a great beauty and poignancy to the best
slapstick comedies, even unsentimental ones like Keaton's "The General"
or Laurel and Hardy's "Way Out West." The latter comedy has a scene
where L&H perform a soft-shoe dance; it always brings me to tears. Why?
Maybe physical comedy has the same kind of effect on me as a dance
performance. Both art forms are very expressive; the fact that I'm
laughing doesn't dilute the emotional charge.
One of many things that made Chaplin a genius was his understanding of how close slapstick is to pathos already. Why not marry the two things? That's what he did in some of his early short films, and that's what he does in this feature comedy. The Little Tramp finds an abandoned baby and raises him into boyhood. But the authorities find out and want to take little Jackie (Jackie Coogan) away. Meanwhile, the mother who abandoned him has since become a wealthy singer and doesn't know if she'll ever find out what became of him.
Jackie Coogan (about five in this film), with his charming manners, his talents as a mimic and his adeptness at physical comedy, is one of the all-time great child actors. Want more evidence of Chaplin's genius? Coogan doesn't steal the film from him. This is true even though Chaplin, as producer, star and director, makes every evident attempt to spotlight the boy's talents. Coogan is even better here than he is in his own vehicles, like "My Boy" and "Oliver Twist."
Chaplin's storytellingeven with the foolish sub-Dickensian plot twists, such as Jackie suddenly taking illdeftly draws out the comedy and pathos for maximum effect. The individual scenes themselves are flawlessly constructed. The window-breaking scene, the flophouse scene, the dream sequence, the trying-to-get-rid-of-the-baby scenethey're perfect. Chaplin's celebrated pantomimic skills are examples of storytelling in themselves.
Want me to criticize something? How about those thudding attempts to link the mother with Jesus? But you know, I can't even complain about that. It's too sweetly naïve. And the movie as a whole is too good to allow us to sneer at the (very) few flaws.
One important note: children love this movie. Show it to them while they're young, and you'll make Chaplin fans of them. And that's better than their becoming fans of almost anything that's being peddled to them.
Action / Comedy / Drama / Family
Action / Comedy / Drama / Family
The opening title reads: "A comedy with a smile--and perhaps a tear". As she leaves the charity hospital and passes a church wedding, Edna deposits her new baby with a pleading note in a limousine and goes off to commit suicide. The limo is stolen by thieves who dump the baby by a garbage can. Charlie the Tramp finds the baby and makes a home for him. Five years later Edna has become an opera star but does charity work for slum youngsters in hope of finding her boy. A doctor called by Edna discovers the note with the truth about the Kid and reports it to the authorities who come to take him away from Charlie. Before he arrives at the Orphan Asylum Charlie steals him back and takes him to a flophouse. The proprietor reads of a reward for the Kid and takes him to Edna. Charlie is later awakened by a kind policeman who reunites him with the Kid at Edna's mansion.
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October 12, 2011 at 10:46 AM