Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Sidewalks of London

(St. Martin's Lane, 1938)

This is how it was listed at TCM, where we watched it, so I was a little surprised to see the title come up as St. Martin’s Lane. Seems that was the orginal title. I think the change was a good idea, at least for foreign audiences, since it’s about buskers, who perform on the sidewalks. This is the best thing about it, exploring the lives of these hard-working Brits who entertain people (whether they want to be entertained or not) standing in lines in the West End waiting for a show to begin. It was also the last film Vivien Leigh made before taking the coveted part of Scarlett O’Hara.

Charles Laughton specializes in dramatic recitations of the poetry of Kipling and others. He hooks up with Vivien, who can sing and dance, and they form a four-person act with two other men (played by real buskers), and are doing pretty well, when she meets handsome agent Rex Harrison. He tells her she is destined for bigger things, and she abandons her pals and goes with Rex. And sure enough, she is soon starring in big musicals. Laughton, meantime, is on the skids. Contrary to what I had expected, when she learns of this she does her best to get him work on the stage, but he is unable to perform. So he goes back to his first love, and dances down the street with his old pals. It’s a fun movie, and a damn good performance by one of the best actors who ever worked in the movies.