The Kid IS the picture

THE KID, continued.

Charlie’s job apparently also afford the opportunity to meet and flirt with housewives — I’ve just read Jack Trevor Story’s Live Now, Pay Later, a funny, bleak kitchen sink dramedy or dromedary about buying on credit, a new craze of the sixties, and the “tally boys” of the story are great seducers of bored housewives. Unfortunately, Charlie is fooling with a kop’s wife. Chaplin reveals this with an artful wide shot of the corner, showing Charlie and the missus chatting by the window on one side, and the kop coming home via the door on the other: Hitchcockian suspense a la MARNIE’s safecracking scene (Hitchcock observed in 1964 that his former preference for intercutting was now “old-fashioned”).

A great “he’s behind you!” moment as the kop appears at the window, and the framing actually suggests the scenario of the Punch and Judy show which is where Chaplin as a lad may have learned this routine, a sure-fire way of getting the audience hysterical with both laughter and tension.

When the kop kollars Charlie, amusingly, he thinks its the housewife putting her arm around him, and it takes a moment for him to realise his mistake even when he’s being throttled. My English teacher Mrs. Chapman explained this as “poignancy” or “dramatic irony,” neither of which seems quite to suit the comedy version.

After that, the inevitable chase isn’t a show-stopper, but has some nice tight alleyway shots — think Griffith’s PIG ALLEY perspectives but in fast motion — and shows CC’s ability to cut from (I think) location to studio and back, seamlessly.

Time for lunch! Huge ladle-loads of steaming muck. Looks kind of appealing to me, but then I’m on the low-carb Mediterranean diet so pretty much everything does.

Edna, meanwhile, has become a theatre star. No particular reason why this should have to happen, but the narrative function it fulfills is to remove any sense of financial need, and let her focus on the absent child. And make her well-equipped to care for him, if she should find him. Chaplin cut back on Edna’s scenes when he re-released the film, evidently feeling he’d given her screen time because she was his friend and regular co-star rather than because the picture needed it. And perhaps because, as Walter Kerr suggests, her stuff is “sentimental” in the bad sense.

Edna’s maid is May White, who we just saw as the first victim of Jackie’s window-smashing spree. A spot of makeup renders her easily able to do a Henry Bergman.

Speak of the devil, here’s Henry as “Professor Guido, impressario.” Yeah, don’t know why we need him here.

Then a walking wall of flowers comes in, carried by a little Black kid. Nice to see a non-white character given something to do that’s not outright degrading.

One little seed is planted for later: a mysterious bunch of toys is brought in by May White…

Back to Charlie & Jackie, finishing their meal. Jackie has acquired some of his foster father’s delicacy, requesting a splash of Charlie’s glass of water to make a fingerbowl. He dips his hands in it, then wipes them on his shoulders, and drags his sleeve across his mouth, rather ruining the genteel effect. Charlie then borrows some of the water and wipes his own hands and face on the tablecloth. This focus on behaviour, the gags buried deep within it, is the kind of thing Chaplin could rarely get away with at Keystone but had already been itching to try.

Edna, meanwhile, is handing out toys in the neighbourhood. Fulfilling her maternal instincts, or searching for her lost son? And is that May White in a third role, as a friendly slum mum?

There’s quite a weird shot here, ostensibly depicting Edna as she goes into a thoughtful dwam at the babe in her arms, but actually favouring Charlie & Jackie’s front door. Of course the unusual effect is completely lucid: without her knowing it, that door is exactly what she’s thinking about. And now Jackie comes through that door, which was the true reason for the framing. I’m not sure whether Chaplin always intended to use the negative-space-that’s-really-positive-space in this way, or if it was chance that in covering the scene he got this useful and expressive material.

Jackie is, of course, adorable. By avoiding the melodramatic cliche of the mother and son instantly recognising each other, but showing an instant bond between them, Chaplin can build greater suspense and BETTER MELODRAMA.

And on that poignant note — with more than half the film left to run — I’m going to leave it there for today as I have a shit-tonne of work to do. Might mean I’m still writing about THE KID through next week, but I hope nobody objects to that.

10 Responses to “The Kid IS the picture”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    Jack Trevor Story was championed by the Manchester SAVOY BOOKS AND RECORDS whose co-Director David Britton (a good friend of mine) passed away early this year. Hitchcock purchased the rights to THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY for a minimal amount and Savoy attempted to publish as much of Jack’s works as possible. In their tribute to Michael Moorcock Savoy include an essay about Jack and his girlfriend falling foul of Notting Hill police at the time and experiencing what most of the Afro-Caribbean population encountered in those unhappy times. Savoy included Jack in their wide canvas of Rock n’ Roll that encompassed James Dean, P.J. Proby, Captain Beefheart, Jim Cawthorn, Moorcock, William Joyce, Jessie Matthews, Fenella Fileding and Harlan Ellison in their eclectic canvas.

  2. Hitchcock had a habit of buying books secretly, not letting the seller know it was him: he did the same with Psycho. And Kubrick was similarly covert/thrifty. I guess it’s good business practice, but horrible for Story, who could have used the money.

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Somehow put in a mind of Harry Langdon’s “Three’s a Crowd”. Kerr views it as a failed attempt to work the same territory as “The Kid”. On actual viewing the melodrama is there for plot mechanics; Langdon’s more interested in gags than making us feel for him. Kerr’s only real misstep in “The Silent Clowns” is accepting the legend of a clueless Langdon brought down by imitating Chaplin and viewing (remembering?) TAC in that light.

    He also looks for seriousness in “The Chaser”, which is in fact broad and simple corn about a wimpy husband oppressed by feminist wife until he breaks loose and conquers the whole gender with his kisses. Fortunately he was clear-eyed about “Long Pants” and didn’t try to interpret it as wrenching coming-of-age story.

    A lot of other comedians went stumbling down the path Chaplin blazed, sweating to be wistful while laboring on behalf of a cute waif (or a whole orphanage full of same). I daresay kids were as prevalent as romantic subplot couples.

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

  5. Both Norman Wisdom “the gump” and Jerry Lewis “the kid” pursued occasional sentiment, with grotesque results, though Jer’s can be considered interesting at least since he’s so far from being Chaplinesque.

    Chaplin often centres the sentiment on someone else; he never makes you wait long for a gag to relieve the gloom; and he’s nearly as good at the dramatic beats as he is at the comic ones. From The Kid on, he’s in complete control of the tonal shifts.

    Later filmmakers who can do their own variations on this neat trick: Sturges and Pixar.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Jerry’s “The Kid” is “The Family Jewels” , a fanciful tale of an orphaned girl (Donna Butterworth) who has to choose which one of her five crazy uncles (all played by Jerry) will be her father. Quite interestingly he doesn’t go for pathos at all.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    “Captain Eddie” is the funniest role he played since it reminds me of the St. Louis to Carbondale air route. Always ran it as an extract in my Jerry Lewis class until drop in enrollments affected 99% of my regular classes.

  8. A shame Capt. Eddie didn’t become a regular addition to the Lewis staple of characters.

  9. Tony Williams Says:

    Doesn’t he briefly re-appear in CRACKING UP?

  10. I think you might be right! And that was really the end of Lewis’ directing career, more or less, so there wasn’t much chance for Eddie to carry on in movies.

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