I wonder if I would have ever discovered Charles Laughton if it had not been for the Internet Archive (search this blog for “Laughton” and you will find a number of his many great performances). Sure, I would have seen a couple of his classics, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), and then I would have dismissed him as typecast. Typecast? Ha! Nothing could be more wrong.
St Martin’s Lane, also known as Sidewalks of London, is yet another example of Laughton’s versatility. Here he plays Charles, a “busker”, essentially a sort of street musician, making his living by playing for the people standing in line for the theatres along St Martin’s Lane in London. He discovers the young and talented Libby (Vivien Leigh) and not only makes her part of his act, but also gives her a place to stay.
Libby pays him back by saying good-bye at first opportunity for a break on the big stages, and as she goes on to ever greater fame, Charles sinks lower and lower into mediocrity and alcoholism.
Laughton and Leigh, and also Rex Harrison as Libby’s playboy sponsor, all make excellent performances, even though it is rumoured that Laughton and Leigh got on each others’ nerves during production.
This film is best enjoyed for the high-quality drama and acting. The story is good and captivating, but the ending is perhaps a little bit dissatisfying. Ah, well. This piece is still well worth watching.
St Martin’s Lane
Running time: 1 h 26 min
Director: Tim Whelan
Stars: Charles Laughton
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×482)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG4 (814 M)