Anatomy of a Gag

Charlie & Jackie

On Film / Visual Analysis — Jun 6, 2018


In many of his best-known incarnations, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp is a lonely figure, looking for adventure, romance, and security in a chaotic world. But for his wildly successful 1921 film The Kid, Chaplin gave his alter ego a mischievous little sidekick, Jackie Coogan, a five-year-old vaudevillian who would go on to become Hollywood’s first major child star. Plucked from the streets after being abandoned by his unwed mother, Coogan’s character gives the scrappy, irresponsible Tramp his first taste of parenthood—and becomes a gleeful accomplice in some of the hero’s law-breaking shenanigans. For the final episode in his three-part series on Chaplin, critic David Cairns explores the comedic magic of this unlikely duo. Drawing on passages from Chaplin’s autobiography, the video illustrates how Chaplin elicited a crowd-pleasing performance from his young costar, combining Coogan’s natural charisma with highly detailed choreography that helped him nail the film’s complicated set pieces.

Watch the video essay above, then check out Cairns’s pieces on two of Chaplin’s favorite motifs: dancing and choking.