Charles Chaplin and Edith Wilson in The Kid.
Everett Collection

Though it sometimes seems there’s an invisible force in the universe decreeing that we must all love Charlie Chaplin, complicated feelings are allowed. As the great critic Robert Warshow has said: if Chaplin’s insistent, naked message is “love me,” we’re also entitled to ask if he loves us back, and the answer may not be what we want to hear. “He does not love us; and maybe he doesn’t love anything,” Warshow writes. “Even in his most genial moments we get now and then a glimpse of how cold a heart has gone into his great blaze.” But even among those of us who don’t worship at the altar of Chaplin, his first full-length film as a director, The Kid, is a close to perfect picture in both its inventiveness and its warmth. The character Chaplin is most closely associated with, the Tramp, with his brushy mustache and battered bowler, finds an abandoned infant on the street and reluctantly takes him home. The baby grows into a child, Jackie Coogan, in a performance so beseeching and guileless that it seems he’s opening a world to us, rather than striving to make us feel. These two are both a family and a team, held close by genuine joy in one another’s company, even if they’re living off pennies. When they’re torn apart, it’s wrenching; when they’re reunited, it restores our faith in the order of the universe. Even by this point, Chaplin had invested a great deal in the on-screen persona he’d created in the previous decade. But his genius was still translucent; he hadn’t yet locked us down with a loyalty clause. It’s easiest to love him here, in The Kid, and to feel we’re getting something like love in return.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at

The Godfather Part II (1974)
Jaws (1975)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Little Women (2019)