Libby (Vivien Leigh) is a skilled young pickpocket who becomes a street performer, working with friends on the streets of London. The group scrapes together just enough money for cheap housing and a bit of food.
Libby soon catches the attention of Harley Prentiss (Rex Harrison), a wealthy theater patron who thinks she’s a great dancer. Harley invites her to bring Charles (Charles Laughton) and the rest of the gang along to perform at an after party.
But when Libby shows up at the party alone, her own theatrical career is launched and the friends who first recognized her talent are left in the dust.
Tim Whelan directs 1938’s Sidewalks of London, also known as St. Martin’s Lane. Five writers contributed to the script, including the director Whelan and star Charles Laughton.
The beginning of the film sets up the fun and somewhat hectic atmosphere of the London streets. Packing the sidewalks are performers and fans alike.
The opening scenes do a pretty good job of drawing in the viewer, though the action of the film is a bit slow in the first portion. (Slow does not necessarily mean it’s all dull in the film’s first half: peppered throughout are funny scenarios and scenes to keep the viewer’s attention.)
The song and dance element of the film provides a lot of fun, but the real draw here is the talent involved.
Vivien Leigh looks as beautiful as ever and has such a strong charisma that she stands out amongst the rest of the film’s players – quite a feat when you’re contending with solid talents like Laughton. Her character is full of the spunk and charm needed to win over the audience and make us wish for her success.
Viv and Charles are perfectly matched against each other here. Laughton churns out a believable performance that tugs on the viewer’s heartstrings.
The script is generally well-constructed and these two actors in particular carry it out beautifully. It’s hard not to feel at least a bit sorry for Charles, especially when (SPOILER TIME) Libby rejects him and tells him to “look in the frying pan,” or makeshift mirror, for reason why. (SPOILERS END HERE)
As the premise would suggest, Sidewalks of London is far from full of laughs, despite the fact that it is frequently billed as a straight comedy. Drama balances the fun as the troop struggles and Libby breaks free from the crowd. There’s no extreme anguish to be found here, but there is a mix of moods that leaves a variety of impressions on the viewer.
Once the story picks up, the film becomes a highly engrossing piece of work, wrapped up in an ending that’s quite touching. The score: 3.5/5