Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Better known in the States as SIDEWALKS OF LONDON, this is a rather bland edge-of-showbiz story set in the world of buskers, street entertainers in England who make their money through "donations" from the public who are waiting in line to see "legitimate" entertainers in theaters and music halls. Charles Laughton plays Charles, a long-time busker who does a little song and dance with his partners Arthur and Gentry, but who specializes in dramatic readings of bad poetry, or maybe bad readings of dramatic poetry. In any case, he's nearing 40 and feeling like he's overdue for a big break. One night, he catches a young dancing girl (Vivien Leigh) who calls herself Liberty, for the statue, trying to steal a coin from his cap. He chases after her, sees her steal a cigarette case from well-to-do songwriter Rex Harrison, and keeps up the chase, cornering her in an empty house. They wind up hitting it off and he lets her stay (platonically) in his shabby little boarding house room. He considers her talented and gets her to join his little group of buskers, but he also falls in love with her, though he never tells her. Leigh winds up invited to a party of Harrison's and he offers her a small part in his show. When she goes back to tell Laughton her good news, he realizes he's going to lose her, so in a pathetic and desperate act, he proposes to her. She humiliates him and runs out for good. In tried and true showbiz melodrama fashion, she eventually becomes a big star (and seems to be living with Harrison, though that’s a bit ambiguous), while Laughton slides downward, giving up busking and becoming a homeless wanderer. While posing as a blind beggar, he has a chance encounter with Leigh which leads to an audition for a show. Laughton shines in this scene, as we see it dawn on him that he just doesn't have what it takes to hit the big time, and the pat ending is neither happy nor sad. Leigh is just OK in an underwritten role, and Harrison barely registers at all. The supporting cast contains two people who didn’t appear in many movies: the renowned British stage director Tyrone Guthrie plays one of Laughton's busking buddies, and Larry Adler, a famous harmonica player and composer of film scores, can be seen as a friend of Harrison's, playing harmonica, of course. [TCM]

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