St. Martin’s Lane / Sidewalks of London (1938)

“There ain’t no justice and there ain’t no logic; the world ain’t made that way.”

Sidewalks of London Poster

A pickpocket waif (Vivien Leigh) on the streets of London befriends a sympathetic busker (Charles Laughton) who takes pity on her and realizes she has dancing talent. After working as a team for awhile, Leigh is solicited by a wealthy man (Rex Harrison) who helps turn her into a star of the stage — but will her loyalty to Laughton shift for good?


Made the year before Vivien Leigh’s breakthrough role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939), this sentimental tale about an unexpected friendship-of-convenience is primarily notable for Laughton’s nuanced performance as a quirky, practical, all-too-human fellow who “does the right thing” without thinking twice. Leigh’s character, on the other hand, is intentionally hard to sympathize with — though she redeems herself nicely by the end and is certainly no villain. Refreshingly, Laughton’s romantic interest in Leigh only occurs after they’ve lived (platonically) and worked together for awhile; until then, he maintains appropriately paternal/brotherly affection for her. Fine period detail and stark cinematography make this tale visually appealing, but it’s only must-see for fans of Leigh or Laughton, or those interested in pre-WWII busking culture.

Note: The storyline has strong parallels with A Star is Born (1937), given Laughton’s “fall from [relative] grace” while Leigh’s star is rising.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Charlie (nominated as one of the Best Actors of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
    Sidewalks of London Laughton
    Sidewalks of London Laughton2
  • Fine period detail
    Sidewalks of London Period Detail
    Sidewalks of London Period Detail2
  • Jules Kruger’s cinematography
    Sidewalks of London Cinematography
    Sidewalks of London Cinematography2

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Laughton or Leigh completists.


One Response to “St. Martin’s Lane / Sidewalks of London (1938)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Kind of a so-so script & there isn’t much the leads can do to raise it to a workable level. Laughton tries hard, admirably but in vain; Harrison is mainly monotone; Leigh isn’t all that effective as a musical performer – and her character is on the insufferable side once she becomes a star. There’s a sudden, turnaround shift near the end that attempts to salvage everything. A bit tiresome, really – and it feels long when it’s just under 90 minutes.

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