Monday, December 26, 2011


In a bustling market neighborhood in London, young Joe and his mother Joanna live with a kindly tailor, Mr. Kandinsky, while waiting for Joe's dad to come back from South Africa on a (seemingly desperate) business deal. Joe flits around on the streets, making friends with everyone, chasing pigeons, and mourning his pet chicks who never live very long. While keeping Joe entertained, Kandinsky tells him about the magic of unicorns who can grant wishes, and soon Joe finds a young, sickly one-horned goat at the market and buys it from its owner. Convinced that the "unicorn" is real, he begins making wishes for his friends and relatives that eventually come true.

That summary makes this film sound like a sweet whimsical fantasy, but it's actually a non-whimsical slice-of-life comedy-drama, albeit in a mood of poetic realism. Much of it was filmed on location in Petticoat Lane in London, which looks like the Lower East Side of New York always used to look in movies. Because the setting grounds the film in realism, some touches of whimsy would be welcome, but aside from the first sighting of the unicorn, there just isn't enough magic in this movie. Seven-year-old Jonathan Ashmore (in his only acting credit) does a nice job as Joe; Celia Johnson (of BRIEF ENCOUNTER) is fine as his mother. Too much of the film is given over to a subplot involving a "dumb lug" boxer (the beefy but wooden Joe Robinson) and his sexpot girlfriend (Diana Dors, often called the British Marilyn Monroe); neither the actors nor the characters are particularly interesting. Best is David Kossoff as the tailor who seems to truly be looking out for Johnson and her son. Nice use of color is a plus; length of the film (at least 15 minutes too long) is a minus. The goat is cute, and I wound up caring more about its fate than the fates of any of the humans. Some critics have said that the film leaves it up in the air as to whether or not the goat is magical, but I saw absolutely no evidence of such an interpretation: it's a poor little one-horned goat and the outcomes for the humans don't need magic to explain them. [TCM]

No comments: