Sidewalks of London

Sidewalks of London, also known as St. Martin's Lane, London After Dark, and Partners of the Night,[1] is a 1938 British, black-and-white, comedy drama starring Charles Laughton as a busker or street entertainer who teams up with a talented pickpocket, played by Vivien Leigh. The film co-stars Rex Harrison and Tyrone Guthrie in a rare acting appearance. It also features Ronald Shiner as the barman (uncredited). It was produced by Mayflower Pictures Corporation.[2]

Sidewalks of London
Directed byTim Whelan
Produced byErich Pommer
Charles Laughton (uncredited)
Written byBartlett Cormack
Clemence Dane
Charles Laughton
Erich Pommer
Tim Whelan
StarringCharles Laughton
Vivien Leigh
Rex Harrison
Music byArthur Johnston
Jack Beaver
CinematographyJules Kruger
Edited byRobert Hamer
Hugh Stewart
Mayflower Pictures
Distributed byParamount Pictures (US)
Release date
18 October 1938 (UK)
15 February 1940 (US)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Plot summary

Charles Staggers (Charles Laughton) is a London street performer, a "busker," with his partners, Arthur Smith (Gus McNaughton) and Gentry (Tyrone Guthrie).

He protects Liberty, known as Libby (Vivien Leigh), a runaway and pickpocket, when she steals a gold cigarette case from successful song writer Harley Prentiss (Rex Harrison). He then takes her into their troupe, making their trio into a quartet.

Libby attracts the attention of Prentiss and his wealthy friends, who can give her a life and career away from the streets. When she leaves, cruelly rejecting Charles's marriage proposal, he doesn't want to go on with the act anymore, and becomes an alcoholic. Libby's career, however, is a big success; she is offered a Hollywood contract. She asks Prentiss to marry her; but, he declines, saying he doesn't want to be thrown away, like Charles, as a mere stepping stone for her career.

In the press of crowds, waiting to see her, as a big star, Libby sees Charles, and, her old partners, busking on the street the way they used to. Charles asks her for her autograph; but, he is pushed aside by the mob.



According to Vivien Leigh's biographer Alexander Walker, Laughton and Vivien Leigh didn't get along while working together. Walker wrote that when an attempt was made to obtain Leigh's services for a film version of Cyrano de Bergerac, Laughton stated that she would have to dye her hair blonde. Leigh asked for a blonde wig, but Laughton insisted she dye her hair. The discussions fell through and Leigh felt slighted.

When Leigh was approached to make Sidewalks of London, she did not want to work with Laughton and she felt no attachment to the role. Nevertheless, she was persuaded otherwise. In Alexander Walker's biography of Leigh, Larry Adler is quoted as saying that Leigh was difficult to work with. He said, "She didn't like Charles and he didn't like her. But he was much more professional. One weekend there were a few close-ups of Vivien to be done outside a theater and Charles, who invariably went down to the country with Elsa (Lanchester) at weekends, stayed up in town to 'feed' Vivien lines from behind the camera. I doubt if she'd have done as much for him. [Laurence] Olivier would show up on the set and they'd disappear into her dressing-room and it was quite a business to get her back to work." Olivier would show up on the days that Leigh was to shoot love scenes with the handsome Rex Harrison.


The film was adapted into the stage musical Busker Alley with songs by the Sherman Brothers. After several false starts with Tommy Tune as director and starring Tune and Melissa Errico, the musical had debuted at the York Theatre in New York on 13 December 2006 starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close.[3][4] A CD which recreated this one-night-only performance was released by Jay Records in 2007.[5]


  1. "St. Martin's Lane (1938) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  2. "Sidewalks of London". Retrieved 27 May 2019 via
  3. Herman, Jan (June 24, 1995). "An Optimistic Tune Carries On" Los Angeles Times Pgs. F1, F12.
  4. Sherman, Robert B. "My Time (part 4)" in Moose: Chapters from My Life. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse Publishers, 2013, pg. 345.
  5. "Jay Records: Busker Alley: (2006 York Theatre Company Cast Recording) A Gala Benefit for The York Theatre Company". Retrieved 24 January 2017.
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