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.



Once again the other morning, instead of getting up I clicked on the TV and turned to Turner Classic Movies. Never a good idea. We ended up watching “The Harder They Fall,” a 1956 movie starring Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, and Virginia Mayo. It was Bogart’s last film; he died the following year.

“The Harder They Fall” was ostensibly based on the life of Primo Carnera, and if it was, it wasn’t meant as a compliment to the Italian boxer. The film concerns an Argentine giant who is brought to the United States by an unscrupulous promoter (Steiger) whose angle is to build up the unwitting and incapable kid through a series of fixed bouts and then bet against him when he fights for the heavyweight title. As far as I know there is no proof, but there is a persistent story Carnera was used in just that way.

Jersey Joe Walcott

The cast of “The Harder They Fall” included Jersey Joe Walcott, who won the world heavyweight title in 1951, when he was 37 years old. Walcott — who served as sheriff of Camden County and chairman of the N.J. State Athletic Commission — played a trainer in “The Harder They Fall,” and seemed comfortable in the part.


Also in this cast was Max Baer, who played the heavyweight champion who beat the Argentine kid and put an end to his career. This appears to have been a none-to-subtle  reference to the fact that Baer took the title from the 275-pound Carnera in 1934. There is also an episode in this film in which the boxer played by Baer gives his opponent such a beating that the man suffers brain damage and dies. That, too, happened in Baer’s career: In 1930, a fighter named Frankie Campbell — brother of Dodger star Dolph Camilli — died after a bout with Max Baer in San Francisco.


Max Baer — father and namesake of the actor-director-producer who played Jethro in “The Beverly Hillbillies” — appeared in a couple of dozen movies and television productions. His brother, Buddy Baer — who was just as hard a puncher  — had a record of 52 wins and 7 losses with 46 knockouts. He never won a title, but he had the distinction of once knocking Joe Louis out of the ring — in a fight that Louis ended up winning on a disqualification call. Baer claimed Louis had hit him and knocked him down after the bell ended the seventh round, and he refused to answer the bell for the eighth. Buddy Baer, too, appeared in numerous movies and television shows after he gave up boxing.


There were other personable guys who dabbled in entertainment after they were through in the ring, including Rocky Graziano and “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom.

Graziano was a New York street brawler and thief who did time on Riker’s Island and spent lots of time in other sorts of incarceration and under the protection of the Catholic Church. He went AWOL from the Army after punching an officer, and he was suspended from boxing for failing to report an attempted bribe and again for running out on a bout. He was a very good boxer and immortalized himself in the annals of the sport for his three bloody fights with Tony Zale in 1946, 1947, and 1948. The second of those fights made Graziano middleweight champion of the world.


After his fighting career, Graziano — who, like a lot of guys with his background, was a charismatic figure — became a popular entertainer, especially on television comedies and variety shows.

Rosenbloom won the world light heavyweight title in 1932 and held it until 1934. On the one hand, his method of moving around the ring made it hard for opponents to land decisive blows, but that quality also meant that his fights often went the distance, and he took a lot of shots to the head. This eventually affected his physical health. Still, he capitalized on the image of a goofy pug and became a familiar figure on television. Although he wasn’t a serious actor, he played a significant role in Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” the iconic boxing story that starred Jack Palance and Ed and Keenan Wynn and included in its cast Max Baer.


In an interesting parallel, Primo Carnera, who was even more unlikely an actor than Rosenbloom, also hit one high note in a limited screen career. Carnera was a giant. When he defended his heavyweight title against Paolino Uzcudun, the two fighters weighed a total of 488 3/4 pounds — the most weight ever in a title match. And when he defended the title against Tommy Laughran, the average weight of the two fighters was 227 pounds, but Laughran weighed only 184. It was the biggest disparity ever in a title bout.

Carnera used his size and generally menacing appearance to his advantage in the 1955 film “A Kid for Two Farthings,” and he won critical approval for his portrayal of villainous wrestler Python Macklin.

Rocky Graziano knocks Tony Zale through the ropes in their 1947 fight.