We watched a 1955 Carol Reed movie, “A Kid for Two Farthings,” which is clumsy in some respects, but quirky enough to hold our interest.

The story takes place in a crowded mercantile neighborhood in London’s East End, where a young boy named Joe and his mother room with an aged Jewish tailor named Kandinsky. Joe’s father has been in South Africa for two years on a vaguely described quest to make his fortune. Whether he’s ever coming back is an open question, and the uncertainty is a source of anxiety for the boy and his mother.


Kandinsky has an assistant in the shop, a muscle-bound young man named Sam, who has been engaged for four years to a bleached blonde named Sonia, but hasn’t been able to afford a ring.

Sam hopes to win an international bodybuilding title so that he can afford to buy the ring, marry Sonia, and set up housekeeping, but a wrestling promoter, Blackie Isaacs, keeps pressuring him to take on a few rigged matches with the promise that he’ll earn enough quickly to  carry out his plans. Under pressure from Sonia, Sam finally agrees to a rigged match with a has been that will lead to a bigger bout with a giant named Python Macklin.

Macklin ridicules Sam and bad blood develops between two, adding to the implications of their scheduled match.


Joe, the little boy, spends a lot of time listening to Kandinsky’s philosophy and learns from the old man about the magical properties of unicorns — specifically that they are capable of making dreams come true. The boy has a lot of dreams — his father’s return from South Africa, a ring for Sonia, and a steam presser for Kandinsky, who is still using an ancient iron. When Joe’s pet chick dies, Kandinsky gives the boy money to buy a dog, but Joe comes back with a sickly goat that has a single horn growing from its forehead. The arrival of this “unicorn” — real or imagined — drives the rest of the story.

This film is a visual treat because much of it takes place in the teeming market place, Kandinsky’s rusty old shop, and a seedy wrestling arena.


Celia Johnson as Joe’s mother, Joanna; David Kossoff as Kandinsky; and Lou Jacobi as Blackie Isaacs give especially good performances. Some commentators have speculated that Kandinsky is a metaphor for the lives of Jews in Europe after the Holocaust and the Second World War, and there is a rabbi in Old World clothing, praying and listening to an old Gramophone, who appears several times in the marketplace – including in the final scene of the movie.

In way that is unique to his own personality, Primo Carnera — the colossal former world heavyweight boxing champion — is very effective as the evil Macklin. On the other hand, Diana Dors as Sonia and Joe Robinson as Sam display as much acting acumen as two blocks of mahogany.

All in all, this is a sentimental, brooding, haunting film — far from perfect, but worth the time.