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SIDEWALKS OF LONDON (aka: ST. MARTIN’S LANE)(director/writer: Tim Whelan; screenwriters: Bartlett Cormack/Clemence Dane/Charles Laughton/Erich Pommer; cinematographer: Jules Kruger; editors: Robert Hamer/Hugh Stewart; music: Arthur Johnston; cast: Charles Laughton (Charles Staggers), Vivien Leigh (Liberty ‘Libby’), Rex Harrison (Harley Prentiss), Larry Adler (Constantine Dan), Tyrone Guthrie (Gentry), Maire O’Neill (Mrs. Such), Gus McNaughton (Arthur Smith), Polly Ward (Frankie), Basil Gill (Magistrate), Helen Haye (Selina); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Erich Pommer; Paramount Pictures; 1938-UK)
“It all seems hardly real.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

American filmmaker Tim Whelan (“The Thief of Bagdad”/”Swing Fever”/”Badman’s Territory“) directs this well-crafted but hammy showbiz rom-com, that features star performances from an up-and-coming Vivian Leigh and a scene stealing one by the crafty veteran thespian Charles Laughton. It’s also a curious theatrical background tale, but one that goes too melodramatic for my taste. It’s manipulatively written by the team of writers Whelan, Bartlett Cormack, Clemence Dane, Charles Laughton and Erich Pommer.

Charles Staggers (Charles Laughton) is a middle-aged busker, who works the street at night in the legit West End theater district of London. His street act is reciting poems and monologues. One night runaway orphan Liberty (Vivien Leigh) steals the gold cigarette case of a famous songwriter and flees to a deserted house. Tracked down by Charles, the busker becomes impressed by her talents as a dancer and instead of turning her in makes her part of his act. Charles adds to his act a quartet of buskers that includes Arthur Smith (Gus McNaughton), Gentry (Tyrone Guthrie) and Constantine Dan (Larry Adler, considered the world’s greatest harmonica player), and they take the name “The Co-Operators.” They find success in the streets, but Liberty, now called Libby, aspires greater fame and dreams of success in the legit theater. After impressing theatrical impresario Harley Prentiss (Rex Harrison), whose lighter she stole that was returned by Charles, she breaks the heart of the smitten much older Charles, whom she now lives with, as she departs for the legit theater with her new promoter Prentiss and finds success on the stage.

The film has street cred as it was shot on location in Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus and St. Martin’s Lane, but even with that going in the pic’s favor it all seems hardly real–just theatrical fancy.

The film wasn’t released in America until the unknown Leigh starred in Gone With The Wind.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”