Friday, May 27, 2011

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


“Everything's luck, see. And good temper. And if you can take a joke. The whole of life's a joke.”

            St. Martin’s Lane better known outside the UK as Sidewalks of London is about a group of buskers or street performers. Buskers were people who would perform outside of London theaters entertaining the crowds as they wait on line to see a show. Charles Stagger (Charles Laughton) is one of many buskers making their living entertaining this way. One day as he is performing a young woman sneaks up and steals his sixpence. She runs away before he can get her but eventually they meet again at a coffee stand. The young woman’s name is Liberty (Vivien Leigh), Libby for short. Also at the coffee stand just happens to be a famous songwriter named Harley Prentiss (Rex Harrison). Libby sees that Prentiss has put down his gold cigarette case without realizing it and she steals the case.
            Charlie sees Libby take the case and he runs after her. He follows her to an abandoned home where Libby seems to be squatting. Libby starts to dance around the large open room. Charlie sees her dance and is taken by her. He blackmails Libby into coming with him so he can turn her in to the police for stealing the case. Charlie takes her back to his place for the night.
            After that night Charlie and Libby become friends. They create a little act along with Charlie’s friends Arthur and Gentry. He never does turn Libby in for the cigarette case but he does have Prentiss come to pick up the case. Prentiss likes what he hears as the busker group practices a new routine. He asks them to perform at a party he will be hosting. On the night of the party Charlie and Libby get into a heated argument over how foolish busking is. Libby goes to Prentiss’s party alone and there that night is a theatrical manager who promises Libby a stage career.
            Charlie waits up all night for Libby. When she comes home he is angry with her but he professes his love for her even going so far as to ask her to marry him. She becomes afraid and once everyone in the house hears her screaming in embarrassment he walks out.
            Liberty becomes the newest West End sensation. Charlie becomes so depressed he turns to drink. He gets thrown in jail for four months after hitting a police officer when he calls to Libby outside a stage door theater and creates a ruckus.
            Libby sees Charlie four months later. She treats him like the dear friend he was to her. She tries to do something good for him by getting him a small audition on a real stage in front of her manager and his people. As Charlie repeats his monologue people keep interrupting. He walks out with Libby chasing after him. She is truly upset that he was not given a proper chance because he is a good actor.
            At the end of the film Charlie realizes that he belongs to the streets. The only place in the world where he belongs is being a busker out on St. Martin’s Lane.
            The performances by Laughton, Leigh, and Harrison are excellent. Laughton I am not really a fan of, I have seen him in other films and was not really impressed. Some of his scenes in this film were way too over the top and theatrical. Vivien Leigh was incredible. You can clearly see she had a great screen presence that the following year would become internationally known. She made Liberty a spunky, feisty, driven character. I loved her cockney accent in some scenes; I just love her British accent in general. The scenes where Leigh was dancing especially the first scene she dances in she was fantastic she was so graceful and beautiful. There was one scene I thought was interesting: Prentiss gets a call from someone saying they want Libby to come to Hollywood. The following year Leigh would be in Hollywood and she would create one of film’s most iconic characters. Rex Harrison all I can say about him is how handsome he was. I am so used to seeing him as the cranky old man from My Fair Lady and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that seeing him young and not cranky was nice.
            Sidewalks of London is a very good film. I liked the story it was different since I never heard or knew of buskers before this. Each actor right down to the extras give fantastic performances. This is definitely a film to see especially if you are a fan of Vivien Leigh this is one proof that she is much more than Scarlett O’Hara. As of right now Sidewalks of London is available to view on youtube. Take advantage of this available viewing before the film is taken off the site.