(director/writer: Charlie Chaplin; cinematographer: Roland H. Totheroh; editor: Charles Chaplin; cast: Charlie Chaplin (Tramp), Edna Purviance (Mother), Jackie Coogan (The Kid), Baby Hathaway (The Kid as a Baby), Carl Miller (Artist), Granville Redmond (His Friend), May White (Policeman’s Wife), Tom Wilson (Policeman), Henry Bergman (Proprietor of lodging house), Chuck Reisner (The Bully), Jules Hanft (Physician); Runtime: 51; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charlie Chaplin; Warner Home Video; 1921-silent)

“Slapstick funny and sentimental, in equal doses.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Slapstick funny and sentimental, in equal doses. The opening credit tells us it’s ‘A picture with a smile and perhaps a tear.’ It served as Charlie Chaplin’s (“Limelight”/”City Lights”/”The Great Dictator”) first full-length feature, and one of his biggest box office successes. Chaplin was with a heavy heart having lost his newborn son after three days from birth defects, was going through a bitterly contested divorce with his 17-year-old wife Mildred Harris at the time of shooting the film (which took the perfectionist 5 1/2 years), and took a heavy risk of borrowing $500,000 from an Italian bank to make the film (reportedly it earned Chaplin some $60,000,000 over a lifetime). First National was upset Chaplin didn’t make it a short (much cheaper to make), and were puzzled why he made it into a drama. The comedian didn’t find it that funny that he was sued by both his wife and the studio, who shared the same lawyers and tried to grab the negatives that Chaplin had to smuggle out of the studio. With all that going on, it still turned out to be a fairly good film even though it couldn’t sustain the comedy throughout. Charlie acts as much as he clowns around with his usual physical gags and slapstick.

The LittleTramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds an abandoned baby in his slum neighborhood and doesn’t know how to pass it on to someone else, so he raises it in his shabby tenement. The baby is the illegitimate child of an aspiring singer (Edna Purviance), who is ashamed she had the out of wedlock child in the charity hospital and therefore placed it in the back seat of a rich man’s car (D.W. Griffith’s car, loaned to Charlie) hoping it could be raised by someone of means. But the car was stolen and the thieves abandoned the kid in an alley in the slums. Five years later the mother achieves fame and wealth as a theater star and wants her child back, while the Little Tramp and the feisty kid (Jackie Coogan) have formed a peachy relationship. The LittleTramp earns a living in a unique way, as the kid breaks apartment windows with rocks while his unofficial father just happens by with a repair kit and a window to repair the damage. Their blissful father and son relationship is threatened when a nosy doctor gets the people from the orphanage to take away by force the kid. The Little Tramp, in his own unique style, takes the kid back before he reaches the orphanage, and while on the run they share a bed in the flophouse. The flophouse proprietor (Henry Bergman) reads in the newspaper about a big reward for the baby and nabs the kid while the Little Tramp is sleeping and brings him to the police station. This brings on a dream sequence of Heaven for Charlie, who fell asleep outside his locked apartment after failing to find the kid. There are a number of angels flitting around in their wings–included in the mix is the twelve-year old “temptress angel” Lita Grey. Grey, in 1924, became Chaplin’s second wife. Waking up the next day from the dream, with the real mother and child reunited at the police station, the Little Tramp is invited to the real mother’s posh home where he’s happily greeted by the grateful kid.