Cast & Crew
Charles Staggers, a middle-aged London street entertainer, or "busker," who performs for pennies from queueing Piccadilly theatergoers, befriends Libby, a runaway orphan and would-be dancer, when she steals the gold cigarette case of successful song writer Harley Prentiss. After finding Libby hiding in a deserted house, Charles takes her in, and they form a quartet with buskers Arthur Smith and Gentry. After Charles returns the cigarette case, Prentiss visits to give him a reward, and Libby insists Prentiss interview her, introducing herself as "Liberty," an aspiring actress. Seeing their act later on the streets, Prentiss hires Charles and Libby to perform at a dinner party. After arguing with Charles about the foolishness of busking, Libby goes to Prentiss' party alone. At the party, a theatrical agent promises to sponsor Libby, and Prentiss takes her home and kisses her. Charles, who has been waiting up all night for Libby, demands an explanation, and Libby tells him that she has a new career on the stage. Charles, in a jealous tirade, tells Libby he wants to marry her, but she rebuffs him in horror, calling him a "looney" and telling him to "take a look in the frying pan." With both his manhood and his profession humiliated, Charles takes to drink and abandons Arthur and Gentry, while Libby becomes a stage star and Prentiss' girl friend. Their paths cross once more following the premiere of her show, "Straw Hats in the Rain." Outside the stage door, Libby is surrounded by crowds seeking her autograph, and the drunken Charles, fighting the throng to get to Libby, is arrested for insubordination and is sentenced to four months in prison. After winning a Hollywood contract, Libby asks Prentiss to marry her, but he refuses, stating that he does not want to be discarded later like Charles. When Charles gets out of prison, he poses as a blind beggar, and one day, Libby, wearing a mink coat, recognizes him. Remorseful of her treatment of Charles, Libby apologizes and gets him an audition for a part in her new show. Charles earnestly recites his old monologue of Rudyard Kipling's "If" but is rudely interrupted by Libby's agents and producers and loses his dramatic momentum. Resigning himself to a life of busking, Charles asks Libby for her autograph, bringing her to tears, then joins Arthur and Gentry.
Carroll Gibbons And His Orchestra
The Luna Boys And Other London Street Entertainers
Sidewalks of London aka St. Martin's Lane - St. Martin's Lane (aka Sidewalks of London)
"In London, an evening's entertainment begins in the streets," explains the opening credits as the film takes us into the culture of buskers, the street musicians, singers, dancers and other performers who pitch their talents to crowds and passers-by in front of cinemas and legitimate theaters. Laughton's Charlie Staggers, who specializes in reciting poems and monologues, meets Leigh's Liberty (no last name) when she snatches his earnings and runs, but retribution is the last thing on his mind when he sees her dance and he takes her in, calling her his "new leading lady." He puts together a quartet with a couple of busker buddies (one of them played by Larry Adler, one of the most celebrated harmonica players of the 20th century) and "The Co-Operators" are a hit, with Libby (as Charlie dubs her) dancing lead and the three men providing support with their harmonies and synchronized steps. But the ambitious Libby has bigger dreams. "If we was any good, we'd be in the theaters, not outside them cadging for coppers," she complains to Charlie, and follows songwriter and theatrical impresario Harley Prentiss (Rex Harrison) into legitimate theater while leaving behind the heartbroken Charlie (who loves this girl who is half his age).
Apart from the melodrama of unrequited love and show business maneuvering, St. Martin's Lane is also a lively street picture set in the intersection where struggling performers and hustlers meet high society and theater folk. Buskers are treated as little better than beggars, muscled by the cops and disdained by the society crowds who favor the "legitimate" entertainment of the theater and music halls; for these reasons, Liberty sets out to break through the wall between "inside" and "outside" performers. The real-life busker group The Luna Boys, whose act gets prominence in a scene after the cops drive The Co-Operators off their pitch, also served as technical advisors. Location shooting in Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus and St. Martin's Lane adds to the atmosphere of authenticity. .
The role of Liberty was originally intended for Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester, but Laughton quickly compromised when Alexander Korda offered financing in return for casting Leigh, his new starlet. According to their biographers, Laughton and Leigh didn't like each other and Laughton cut down Leigh's role (including an excised romantic subplot with Harrison) to play up his own, giving himself the spotlight as the pathetic clown wallowing in rejection and self-pity.
Leigh's Cockney accent is unconvincing at best but her sassy performance is dynamic and she is entrancing as the dancing dreamer, theatrical ingénue and finally the confident stage star managing the press and her fans with utter professionalism. There is a fire in her eyes and behind her radiant smile and angelic face is a ruthless drive. "She is phenomenal," observed Laughton biographer Simon Callow, "which is always better than being competent or solid." Laughton embraces the hammy excesses of Charlie's big, broad dramatic recitations while playing the doting mentor in love with his beautiful protégé with a sad hopefulness. Nonetheless it was Leigh whose career was boosted by the film. Hollywood offers started coming in but she held out for the role that would make her fame and, like Libby, she got it. As for St. Martin's Lane (renamed Sidewalks of London for the United States), its release was held up until after Gone with the Wind made Leigh a Hollywood star.
Producer: Erich Pommer
Director: Tim Whelan
Screenplay: Bartlett Cormack, Clemence Dane, Charles Laughton, Erich Pommer, Tim Whelan (writers)
Cinematography: Jules Kruger
Art Direction: Tom Morahan
Music: Arthur Johnston
Film Editing: Robert Hamer, Hugh Stewart
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).
by Sean Axmaker
Sidewalks of London aka St. Martin's Lane - St. Martin's Lane (aka Sidewalks of London)
This film was first released in Great Britain in July 1938 by Associated British Picture Corp. under the title St. Martin's Lane. Intermediate titles were Partners of the Night and London After Dark. On December 4, 1939, the title was changed to Sidewalks of London for the film's American release. The title card on the viewed print read: "Charles Laughton in City of Westminster St. Martins Lane." John Maxwell, who formed Mayflower Pictures with Erich Pommer and Laughton, financed the company for the production of three films, of which Sidewalks of London was the second (see also the above entries for The Beachcomber and Jamaica Inn). The viewed print states that Vivien Leigh and Rex Harrison were used "By permission of London Film Productions, Inc.," which was run by Alexander Korda. The print also credited distribution to Corinth Films, Inc., although no evidence that the film was distributed in the 1930s by this company has been found. No copyright entry was found for this film.
According to press material, the release of the film, which helped Leigh win the role of Scarlett O'Hara, was purposefully held up in the United States by Paramount until after the opening of Gone With the Wind. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, on the night of the picture's preview, to which Leigh had invited all "Leighs" in Los Angeles, the actress had the flu and sent her stand-in to sign autographs in her place. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item on January 30, 1940, Leigh was reportedly thrilled by the American press's reaction to the film and happily agreed to pose for stills, which she had at first been reluctant to do. The film's program notes that Laughton "resorted to Machiavellian tactics" to get Korda to agree to allow Leigh to do the role. The program says Laughton "smuggled a copy of the script to the actress and let her do the rest." At the time, Leigh was receiving laurels for her performance in Ashley Duke's West End play The Mask of Virtue.
The Luna Boys, real buskers (British street entertainers), were hired, according to press material, as technical advisors as well as actors in the film. Actors Gus McNaughton and Tyrone Guthrie were also once real buskers, according to the film's program. Carroll Gibbons was the leader of a famous dance orchestra, which performed at the Savoy Hotel in London for years. Although in the film, Laughton's character refers to the poem he repeatedly recites as "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God," by Milton Hayes, some sources refer to the poem as "The Green Eye of the Yellow God." Hollywood screenwriter Bart Cormack, who plays "Strang" in this film, scripted The Beachcomber for Laughton.
According to modern sources, Laughton frequented St. Martin's Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue in order to do live busker research. A modern biography of Laughton states that much of Clemence Dane's script was rewritten by Tim Whelan, Cormack, Laughton and Pommer, and that Dane declined to take credit for the screenplay when the picture was released, although he is credited on the screen. According to the biography, actual queueing theatergoers in London's West End were used as extras in the film, and London locations included Cambridge Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus and St. Martin's Lane. This film was re-issued in 1949 by the British company Renown Pictures Corp.