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Friday, November 10, 2006

All singing! All dancing! All busking!

Charlie Staggers (Laughton) entertaining a queue

Pat Cronenberg recently brought to my attention this recent bit of news about the New York Première of "Busker Alley", a musical inspired by "St. Martin's Lane", a 1938 Mayflower picture starring Charles Laughton. A one-night only benefit performance featuring Glenn Close will be staged on November 13th.

I am a bit surprised, as "St. Martin's Lane" (released in the USA as "The Sidewalks of London") wasn't, shall we say, an spectacularly successful film. Though, as Edward Copeland pointed recently, nearly everyone has heard about the musical "Chicago" while most people is ignorant about the existence of the film "Roxie Hart".

behind the camera of "St. Martin's Lane", from left to right : photographer Jules Kruger, director Tim Whelan, producers Erich Pommer and Charles Laughton

While it is true that the films produced by Mayflower Pictures (the company set in 1937 by German Producer Erich Pommer and Laughton) failed to meet the high hopes that the union of such illustrious film personalities seemed to herald, they have their points of interest which, in my humble opinion, make the film well worth watching.

In the case of "St. Martin's Lane" , there's a touching performance by Laughton as a doomed-to-fail yet ultimately hopeful busker, a pre-"Gone With the Wind" Vivien Leigh as a volatile cockney girl, a very young Rex Harrison as a posh song composer, a filmed record of Harmonica Soloist Larry Adler's virtuosism , as well as a documentary record of the pre-WW2 London: many scenes were shot actually in West End streets and real street entertainers appear performing themselves.

Vivien Leigh (Libby) and Laughton

One of the usual criticisms of the film is that accomplished as it is the portrait of low-life London, the high-life and glamour musical scenes fall flat. While true, I feel that the key to this is that the musical scenes were, as those of the back alleys of the West End, seen through a realistic looking glass: used, as most of us are, to lavish film musicals (with numbers which can only exist as such on the screen), we may be deceived at watching how an actual musical show may have looked like in the 30s.

Incidentally, the premiére of "Busker Alley" almost coincides in time with a Zone 2 DVD release of the film (there's already a Zone 1 DVD published by Kino)

Don't think the "Night of the Hunter" campaign is over, further installments are queuing to be posted ASAP. Keep spreading the word, ye faithful keepers of the flame.