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

Synopsis:
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?

Genres:

Review:
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.

Links:

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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