Renowned by critics all over the world and known by nearly everyone, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid is considered the great comedian’s crowning achievement for a reason. Not only did the movie incorporate the elements that were considered innovational at the time, allowing Chaplin finally retreat from the sketch driven comedy, a pattern that was slowly wearing its novelty out, but also to use these new tools in order to make the characters more memorable and contribute to their evolution, as well as find new ways of developing the plot through a careful choice of the visual elements.
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The immediate compositional qualities of the scene truly shine through.
Speaking of the aforementioned compositional qualities of the movie, one should mention that the mise-en-scene, in which the Tramp, the lead character of the movie, strolls down the street, is, perhaps, among the most powerful moments in the movie. Setting the emotional tone suggests a unique way of representing the trap’s character. Since during the first two minutes, the viewers can only see Chaplin walk, all obstacles blocking the audience’s view of the character are removed, and the viewers are able to see the Tramp as he is, shown solely through the power of Chaplin’s unsurpassed acting skills (The Kid 00:06:00–00:08:11).
The visual impact of the scene is astonishing. It is quite peculiar that the director preferred making long shots instead of switching from one scene to another, which was more typical for a traditional Charlie Chaplin comedy. New and, thus, intriguing, this approach tricked the audience into paying attention to the movie, appreciating its stylistic features and giving credit to a very touching, though a bit overused plot.
More importantly, long shots display the changes in the Tramp’s emotions, helping understand the character and his motivations better. For example, the fact that the Tramp is in the focus of the camera from the moment when he emerges out of the corner to the point where he approaches a nearly dilapidated building helps represent the character as rather upbeat and confident. However, as soon as the Tramp approaches the building, and is nearly hit by debris falling from the roof of the building, he loses his self-assured look in a moment and jumps away from the danger in a comedic fashion (The Kid 00:06:17–00:06:22).
In addition, one must give the director credit for choosing the setting for the plot to unwrap in. It would have been relatively easy to throw a striking contrast between the dreadful environment of street life and the cozy comfort of the British suburbia. Chaplin, however, is far from jumping into such extremes; quite on the contrary, he creates a very smart and unique environment for his character to evolve in without exaggerating the problems of living in the street and, at the same time not overshadowing the difficulties that such a life includes. The shabby houses and poor streets, which the Tramp walks down, could have been made very unwelcoming by setting the action to take place in the night; however, the Tramp makes his “discovery” in broad daylight (00:07:01).
The lighthearted representation of the street life, therefore, paves the way to the development of the comedy in the movie, which would have been impossible if Chaplin had chosen different stylistic tools and settings. The same can be said about the rest of the visuals; the zooming effect, for example, is used quite rarely in the scene, and at first, it might seem that zooming has little purpose here. Indeed, the audience is only allowed to look at the Tramp from a distance, yet, once the camera approaches Chaplin’s character, all that the audience can see is a box of cigars. Yet, as the scene unfolds in front of the viewers, the visual impact of the scene hits them – the shaky movements of the Tramp’s hands (00:06:57) tell much more about the Tramp’s indecisiveness, childishness, and need for a friend than any dialogue could. This is even most impressive; the entire scene only lasts for a couple of seconds; its visual impact, however, is stunning.
This is the scene in which the strategy of laying out exposition has reached the genius level, and the score plays a vital role in creating a unique environment, in which the narration can take place. Indeed, taking into account that The Kid belongs to the era of silent movies, where dialogue could not be used as the means of expressing the characters’ emotions explicitly, the score was obviously used to render the slightest changes in the characters’ feelings. The abruptness of the score, with a rather upbeat tempo at the beginning, with the silence that adds to the tension in the middle, and an abrupt change to a cadence of D minor chords when Chaplin’s character comes across the abandoned child, displays the surprise and defines the uniqueness of the situation, thus, stressing its tragicomedy nature. It would be wrong to claim that, without the score, the scene would have been less significant as an element of the movie – quite on the contrary, it stands on its own as a solid part of the movie plot and an introduction to Chaplin’s character.
Nevertheless, it is the music score that fills the scene in question with a new meaning, adding several new layers of meaning. While the fast and upbeat music that starts the scene displays the character played by Chaplin as very jolly and careless, the serene and slow music, which ends the scene, allows the audience to discover the compassion and kindness of the character, as well as adds to the atmosphere, switching the optimistic opening of the scene with sadness that comes as the closure.
The fact that His Morning Promenade was located at the very beginning of the movie, right after the story of the baby was told, is crucial to the development of both Chaplin’s character and the character of his “companion.” More importantly, the chemistry between the characters is disclosed in the scene in question immediately. The happy score at the beginning, as well as Chaplin’s manners and expression, define the lead as a careless and very happy, though the rather hapless person, who seems to be completely self-sufficient. The audience, thus, knows from the very start of the scene that the baby, which he is about to discover, will bring him continuous troubles and tedium, turning his life completely topsy-turvy, gaining a more steady pace, giving him new responsibilities and finally getting a meaning.
Moreover, the audience senses a change in the Tramp’s character, that is, a shift from being an absent-minded person, who has little to no point in his life, to becoming a friend and a mentor to the child. Herein the comedic effect of the scene lies – as soon as the viewers see that their suspicions have been confirmed, the comedy is created, and the audience bursts in laughter. Indeed, if the scene was placed after Chaplin’s character, Tramp was introduced to the viewers, the scene with the stroll down the street would have become entirely pointless, and the comedic effect of the tramp meeting John, the “Kid,” would have vanished without a trace. The scene has been placed exactly where it belongs, allowing for a unique character introduction and its development at the same time.
Though calling His Morning Promenade the most significant scene in the history of moviemaking would be quite a stretch, it still lends a unique tone to the movie, thus, making it timeless and introducing an original tool for a movie character development. His Morning Promenade has clearly left a huge mark on the history of cinema, showing that such important elements of the movie as the representation of a character, the character development and the relationships between two different characters, as well as a hint at the following growth of the latter, can be provided in such a short and structurally simple scene.
His Morning Promenade deserves being called one of the most memorable and impressive artworks, since it not only reinvented the approaches towards the process of filming, character development and movie aesthetics but also showed that the traditional, sketch-driven comedy, which Charlie Chaplin was famous for at the time, could be developed, therefore, becoming more complex and nonetheless funny.
The Kid. Ex. Prod. Charlie Chaplin. Hollywood, LA: Charles Chaplin Production. 1921. DVD.