In a lower-class London community of small shops, open-air vendors and flea-marketers, Joe, a small boy, lives with his mother, Joanne, who works in and rooms above the Kandinsky tailor shop. Joe is innocently and earnestly determined to help realize the wishes of his poor, hard-working neighbours. Hearing from Mr. Kandinsky the tale that a captured unicorn will grant any wish, Joe uses his accumulated pocket change to buy a kid with an emerging horn, believing it to be a unicorn. His subsequent efforts to make dreams come true exemplify the power of hope and will amidst hardship.
Celia Johnson ... Joanna
Diana Dors ... Sonia
David Kossoff ... Avrom Kandinsky
Joe Robinson ... Sam Heppner
Jonathan Ashmore ... Joe
Brenda De Banzie ... 'Lady' Ruby
Primo Carnera ... Python Macklin
Lou Jacobi ... Blackie Isaacs
Irene Handl ... Mrs. Abramowitz
Danny Green ... Bully Bason
Sydney Tafler ... Madam Rita
Sid James ... Ice Berg (as Sidney James)
Vera Day ... Mimi
Daphne Anderson ... Dora
A nostalgic film which works on many levels. It is as gentle a look at the innocent magic of childhood as Stephen Spielberg's E.T. It is also a look at the indomitable spirit of London's east enders only 10 years after the end of WWII. Another level is a look back at the 50's, which seem chaste by comparison with today. As one who grew up in the 50's, I can remember that it was exactly like that. Wrestling matches were gritty affairs which took place on Friday night's at the local drill hall, and attracted all the small town gamblers, crooks, bookmakers and "fast Eddies" in town.
The film captures the cockney humor and sharp wit of the polyglot community practically living on top of each other. People lived close to the small shops and businesses. Everyone knew everyone else and saw them all day. Their lives were lived openly, with the neighbors sharing in each others joys, sorrows, gossip, romances, and whatever. The most shining performance is that of the wonderful character actor, David Kossof, as the elderly tailor who strives to keep the child's dream alive.
Carol Reed is one of the few directors whose work I fervently wish to explore exhaustively in the near future. I made this decision on the basis of his post-War masterpiece 'The Third Man (1949),' perhaps one of the top ten films ever made, and my resources are currently strained in the frantic search for 'Odd Man Out (1947)' and 'The Fallen Idol (1948),' of which most speak with only the utmost praise. In the meantime, I managed to tape 'A Kid for Two Farthings (1955)' on late-night television, and, though it is one of Reed's more obscure offerings, I must say that I quite enjoyed it. Distinctly British in tone, the film is a gentle and warm-hearted fantasy film, depicted through adult eyes and designed to appeal both to children and to those who once were. Set in lower-class London, the story revolves around a bright young boy, Joe (Jonathan Ashmore), who uses his pocket-money to purchase what he believes to be an infant unicorn. Reed, even with what is relatively light fair, expertly captures the warmth and spirit of the working-class community.
In the hustle-and-bustle of London, a weary mother (Celia Johnson) takes care of her young son, Joe, waiting tiredly for the next letter from her husband, who is trying to make a living in the African colonies. Her neighbour Mr. Kandinsky (David Kossoff) runs a not-so-profitable tailor shop, and yearns above all else for a steam presser to make things easier for his aching bones. Mr. Kadinsky's diligent bodybuilding assistant Sam (Joe Robinson) has spent the last four years engaged to beautiful blonde Sonia (Diana Dors), but his meagre income has continually delayed their marriage; to raise the funds, he challenges a massive wrestler (Primo Carnera) to a professional bout in the ring. One day, when Joe is sent out to buy himself a puppy, he instead happens upon a runtish kid goat with a single paltry horn protruding from its forehead. Having remembered Mr. Kadinsky's tale about the magic powers of a unicorn, he immediately purchases the pathetic little creature, and so sets about improving the lives of his family and loved ones by drawing upon the wish-granting abilities of his newfound companion.
By the end of the film, Joe's young "unicorn" becomes a beaming symbol of hope for the story's main characters, and (arguably) triggers an unexpected upsurge in fortunes for the lower-class battlers. Strictly speaking, the story contains nothing that might be considered implausible in true life, but Edward Scaife's vivid Technicolor photography, particularly at night, highlights the artificiality of the shooting locations and studio sets, reinforcing the film's foundations in fantasy. David Kossoff provides the film's best performance as the wizened Jewish tailor, and Jonathan Ashmore is very enjoyable in the main role; his perfect elocution may conflict with his supposed lower-class upbringing, but it also makes his every word an absolute delight. 'A Kid for Two Farthings' is most certainly an outing in fantasy, only it distinguishes its fairytale by reflecting upon it from the nostalgic perspective of an adult, emphasising the importance of make-believe in the development of young minds in difficult times, and also perhaps suggesting that, even in adults, a lit bit of child-minded optimism doesn't go amiss.
Seeing this film for the first time today, the first thing you notice is just how vibrant the colours are and just how unsuited to colour the film is. Black-and-white might have given the film an edge; colour only makes it look like a sub-Runyon yarn. It's set in London's East End and is certainly full of Runyonesque characters, this time courtesy of Wolf Mankowitz. The next thing you notice is just how terrible it is and how terribly miscast it is.
Who, apart perhaps from Carol Reed, could have envisaged marble-mouthed Celia Johnson as a working-class East End mother? Is it any wonder her toffee-nosed brat of a boy, (Jonathan Ashmore, never heard of again), talks as if he's been taking elocution lessons. Then there's Joe Robinson, the most Runyonesque character of all, another improbably polite strongman engaged to Diana Dors, (not bad, considering). And no East End movie of the period would be complete without David Kossoff as a Yiddish tailor, (did he come out of the womb talking and looking like that?).
It's about Ashborne buying a young goat with a single horn which he believes is a unicorn. It's meant to be heart-warming. We are supposed to love the child and his goat. I wanted to skin them alive. The film is hardly ever revived. Even Carol Reed retrospectives tend to ignore it. Now I know why.
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I thought Primo Carnera did a good job here. His English is very good and he finally has a chance to do some acting. Probably the only chance to see Carnera, in color, as a normal person, and not as some freak of nature playing some other freak of nature.