Written by Wolf Mankowitz, based on his novel
Directed by Carol Reed
Hosted by David Kossoff, Jonathan Ashmore, Celia Johnson, Diana Dors, Joe Robinson
Released by Home Vision
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Avoid it.
Welcome to the London East End, a no man's land of people and culture that people don't so much seem to struggle to rise above as come to terms with the fact that they're stuck there and should make the most of it. Here lives Joe (Ashmore), a young boy with a tremendous amount of vim, vigor and imagination. He's with his mother (Johnson), a seamstress who is staying at the tailor's shop owned by Mr. Kandinsky (Kossoff). Mother and son are waiting for the man of the family to call for them from South Africa, where he's supposedly getting rich off of the exploding diamond industry.
Kandinsky is actually a really nice old guy, trying to keep Joe's spirits from spiralling down the drain by telling him stories, such as of the unicorn, a magical creature who can grant wishes. Thus, Joe is setup to run into a goat with a deformed single horn--and purchase it, screeching at the top of his miniature lungs, "A Uuuuuunicornnn!" He thinks this is the answer to not only his prayers, but of his fellow denizens of the East End.
The film has its heart in the right place, but that's about all one can say of it. It wants to be a moving treatise on the power of childhood imagination, but Ashmore's constant screeching about his goat is enough to make even the most child-loving among you want him locked in the trunk of a car. The standout of the film is David Kossoff, whose kindly old Kandinsky gets all the best lines and the best scenes, whether with the boy or his mother. In fact, he feels like the only fully fleshed out human among the bunch.
The other problem is that B-Plot, so to speak, of a local body builder who goes into the ring with a monster of an opponent in order to prove his devotion to his long-suffering girlfriend, is derailed by the fact it's hard to care for either character. And it has nothing to do with the fact that Robinson, who plays the bicep-heavy blond, looks like he's trying out for the live action Johnny Bravo flick. Diana Dors, as the girlfriend, isn't given much to do but stand around and wait for Marilyn Monroe to demand her DNA back. If we had stayed focused on young Joe (despite his grating proclamations), or at least kept all the other subplots in balance, we might have a different (and better) film on our hands.
So unless you're a Carol Reed completist, there's no reason to go grab this one, as the DVD doesn't really present us with any bonus info to defend itself. I would have appreciated even some information on the original novel (which appears to be out of print)--but alas, nothing. Therefore, if you really must, rent it--but I wouldn't plonk down much in the way of coin.
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