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A Tale of Two Cities
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10 from 3,744 votes
Release: 25 December 1935 (USA) /

A Tale of Two Cities

Genre: Action, Drama, History, Romance
Director: Jack Conway,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: An elaborate adaptation of Dickens' classic tale of the French Revolution. Dissipated lawyer Sydney Carton defends emigre Charles Darnay from charges of spying against England. He becomes enamored of Darnay's fiancée, Lucie Manette, and agrees to help her save Darnay from the guillotine when he is captured by Revolutionaries in Paris. Written by Marg Baskin <marg@asd.raytheon.ca>

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Critic Reviews


When screen masterpieces of literary works are discussed, this version of Dicken's classic is sure to be one of them. Yet at the time of its release, it did not get the acclaim it deserved. None of its fabulous cast received Oscar nominations, although it was up for Best Film. To this viewer, it was the best film of 1935, and tops in many other categories as well.

From the moment this movie begins, the audience is transported back to pre-French Revolutionary Europe. It is England and Lucy Mannette (the now forgotten Elizabeth Allen) is called to France to be reunited with her father (Henry B. Walthall). Meanwhile, aristocrat Marquis St. Everymonde (Basil Rathbone) is accidently responsible for the death of a child, and ends up murdered after disowning his nephew (Donald Woods) who changes his name to Charles Darnay and moves to England. He is put on trial for having secret British documents, but is helped to freedom by the similar looking Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman). Darnay marries Lucy Mannette, but his past threatens to tear them apart forever as the French Revolution begins.

That is just a snippet of the plot, just to give the reader a taste of the classic story. All of Dicken's story would have made enough material for two films, so of course, there was some liberty taken when writing the screenplay. Dickens' stories concentrated on the abundance of characters he wrote in and out of the storyline, and "A Tale of Two Cities" is no exception. Every character from beginning to end has some connection to the basic plot; there are enough twists and turns to keep the audience interested through the two-hour running time. What makes this film work is the amount of effort by the writers to make each characterization important to the overall structure.

First, heroine Lucy Mannette; seemingly fragile, she never-the-less manages to survive every ordeal she faces; Elizabeth Allan is lovely and believable, yet never weak. She had minimal screen work (most notably a supporting role in "Camille"), but this film assured her of screen immortality. Donald Woods is less impressive as Charles Darnay; he does not entirely convince the audience in his scenes with scoundral Basil Rathbone as his uncle. Rathbone easily chews him up and spits him out. As Lucy's devoted companion Miss Pross, Edna May Oliver is a true scene stealer. One of Hollywood's best character actresses during the 30's, Oliver was truly lovable in spite of her outward sourness; beneath that beats a heart of gold that always came through for the heroines in their time of need. If there had been Oscar nominations for Supporting Actress at this time, Oliver would be a candidate-either for this film or for another Dickens adaption released through MGM the same year, "David Copperfield".

Oliver's rival in the film onscreen and off (for awards) is the unforgettable European stage actress Blanche Yurka playing the pathetic Madame DuFarge. You can't help but sympathize with this tragic yet bitter character who has seen so much suffering that she can't help but want revenge. Yurka had only a few more opportunities to shine in films, but this was her showiest roles, and one for which she deserved recognition. In subsequent versions of this film, DuFarge was a much younger character, making her seem less hard. Yurka's scene in court where she reveals all is simply one of the best performances of a monologue in screen history.

Then, there is Ronald Colman as the tragic Sydney Carton who suffers an unrequitted love for Lucy and decides as a result to make the ultimate sacrifice. No one other than Colman could have done this role justice; he simply is Sydney Carton just as much as Gable was Rhett Butler, just as much as James Cagney was George M. Cohan. No, it is not the leading role. He doesn't even appear until way into the film, but once he does, he is unforgettable. What then turns into the film's lead makes for breathtaking cinema presence.

I also want to take time to mention the little-talked-about Lucille LaVerne who plays the part of DeFarge's co-hort "La Vengeance". Watch this film (again if you've already seen it) with D.W. Griffith's "Orphans of the Storm". This is a good companion piece with "A Tale of Two Cities" as both are about the French Revolution, and it is amazing the similarity of the two characters which LaVerne played. It is almost like they are the same ones, here living with two different storylines. One of those rare occurances in films that just has to be seen.

"A Tale of Two Cities" is a film I can watch over and over. I have seen other versions, but this film ranks as the very best. The production design is outstanding; the music brilliant; and the writing excellent. Very few films in history rank total perfection; this is one of them.

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