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'The Kid' is ageless

SCREENING ROOM

The 1921 classic launches the second part of UCLA's Chaplin series.

February 19, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

More than 80 years after "The Kid" was released, both the film and the child star whose career it launched, Jackie Coogan, still prove irresistible.

The 1921 movie will be shown Friday to kick off the second part of UCLA Film Archive's Charlie Chaplin series, which examines Chaplin's career from 1921 to '57.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 20, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Chaplin films -- An article in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section about the screening of Charlie Chaplin movies at UCLA mistakenly said that "The Kid" and "A Woman of Paris" would be shown tonight. The films will be shown Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Coogan plays a 5-year-old who had been abandoned shortly after birth and rescued by Chaplin's Tramp. The child and his devoted foster father must survive by their wits. Chaplin keeps the inherent sentimentality of the material from becoming unduly saccharine with his formidable sense of humor and his characters' impressive resilience. Above all, "The Kid," which has the airy grace and exuberance of a ballet, endures because of Chaplin's inimitable eloquence and impeccable timing.

"A Woman of Paris" (1923) was out of circulation for half a century until 1977, when Chaplin allowed Burt Schneider's BBC Films to re-release his major features. The film was the first of the radical departures that confounded Chaplin's public throughout his tempestuous career. Eager to prove himself a serious director and committed to fulfilling his promise to Edna Purviance, his lovely leading lady in 35 early comedies, Chaplin wrote the drama -- which was in the vanguard of post-World War I cinema -- especially for her. He also wanted to disprove the notion that psychology could not be expressed on the silent screen, and he succeeded magnificently.

A patrician, Juno-esque beauty, Purviance plays a young small-town Frenchwoman, parted by fate from her beloved (Carl Miller). Unable to return home, she squares her shoulders and heads for Paris penniless. Moving ahead one year, Chaplin reveals her to be elegantly gowned and ensconced in a luxe apartment, dining regularly with Adolphe Menjou, described as Paris' richest bachelor -- and shortly to become engaged to an heiress, a development that Menjou doesn't feel need affect his arrangement with Purviance.

"A Woman of Paris" is a masterwork of the most exquisite subtlety, grace and compassion.

Although the film climaxes melodramatically, giving way to sentimentality and a dubious piety, Chaplin pulls everything together for a characteristically grand final flourish in a variation on the film's fatalistic beginning. Unfortunately, the film, a succes d'estime, did nothing for Purviance while establishing Menjou's durable urbane image. However, four of Chaplin's colleagues on this film -- Eddie Sutherland, Monta Bell, Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast and Jean de Limur -- became important directors.

More Chaplin

Scheduled as part of the UCLA Film Archive's occasional Kids' Flicks screenings, the breezy two-reeler "The Idle Class" (1921) finds Chaplin playing a boozy fop as well as the Tramp. Mistaken identity, not surprisingly, is in the works. A transitional film, "The Idle Class" combines sophisticated social satire with the slapstick of Chaplin's early shorts, and the mixture is a delight. Purviance, who plays Coogan's distraught unwed mother in "The Kid," is cast here as the drunk's unhappy wife. Lita Grey, Chaplin's teenage second wife, who plays a singularly flirtatious angel in "The Kid," can be glimpsed briefly as Purviance's maid.

One would never guess from watching "The Circus" (1928), the least known of Chaplin's nine features, that it was made during one of the most trying periods of Chaplin's life. Production began in 1926, and soon after, Chaplin became embroiled in a sensational, litigious divorce from Grey that brought shooting to a halt for nearly a year. "The Circus" may not be among his greatest films, but it is thoroughly enchanting all the same.

After having been mistaken for a pickpocket by police, the Tramp takes refuge in a circus run by a tyrant (Allan Garcia) with a pretty stepdaughter (Grey's best friend Merna Kennedy, who replaced her in the role), an equestrian whom he treats brutally. So unconsciously funny is everything that the Tramp does that Garcia keeps him on as a clown. Just as things start looking up for the Tramp and Kennedy, with whom he has fallen in love, Garcia hires a handsome tightrope walker (Harry Crocker, scion of the pioneering San Francisco family) with whom the Tramp must now compete.

Although "The Circus" lacks pathos, and its relationships and characterizations (outside the Tramp's) are perfunctory, this seeming deficiency allows the film to unfold like a single extended gag.

*

Screenings

UCLA Film and Television Archive

Charlie Chaplin, Part II:

"The Kid," Friday, 7:30 p.m., followed by "A Woman of Paris."

Kids' Flicks: Charlie Chaplin's "The Idle Class," Sunday, 2 p.m., followed by "The Circus."

Where: James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA campus, Westwood

Info: (310) 206-FILM

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