A Kid for Two Farthings is a Carol Reed film, the first one he made that was in colour. After all of those great noirs like The Third Man, The Fallen Idol and Odd Man Out, the move seems to have meant losing something. A lot of directors of that time found colour hard to get used to—someone like Hitchcock was able to make the transition fairly easily, but Reed’s work had always been very claustrophobic.
This is definitely very different. It’s an odd kind of fable about a boy and his goat, which could be a unicorn. The plot is all over the place. It’s set in the East End Jewish community in the 1950s, which is an interesting idea. There’s a strong-man character (played by Joe Robinson, a professional wrestler), which doesn’t quite work, but the stuff with the unicorn is quite cool. Diana Dors appears doing her best Poundland-Marilyn Monroe impersonation. The story revolves around a boy who thinks the unicorn might grant his wishes, there’s also a romance between Dors and Robinson, and a side plot about a crooked wrestling promoter.
Some of the photography is really good, but Edward Scaife cut his teeth on Black Narcissus so he certainly knew how to shoot colour, and he had worked with Reed previously on The Third Man. Scaife later went on to shot The Dirty Dozen, which was probably his best-known film as a cinematographer.
There is a picture of post-war London that isn’t often seen on film, which adds interest. But the story isn’t quite as fairytale-like as it should be—trying to mix that with realism doesn’t work well. Therefore it’s a bit of a disappointment. Although Reed did make some interesting stuff later on, this film signals that most of his best work is behind him. A Kid for Two Farthings wasn’t one of his most popular movies by any stretch, and it’s been more or less out of circulation for a long time. But it’s a curious, whimsical little oddity in Reed’s very long career, and some viewers will find it interesting despite its flaws.
The disc includes a lot of archival film related to post-war London, boxing and wrestling. There are some interviews, including a new interview with actress Vera Day, and an audio interview with Robinson from 2006. A booklet with new writing on the film plus extensive notes on the archival films tops of the set.