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A Tale of Two Cities

170 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Tale of Two Cities, A (1935) (DVD)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." Charles Dickens' tale of love and tumult during the French Revolution comes to the screen in a sumptuous film version by the producer famed for nurturing sprawling literary works: David O. Selznick (David Copperfield, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind). Ronald Colman (The Prisoner of Zenda) stars as Sydney Carton ? sardonic, dissolute, a wastrel...and destined to redeem himself in an act of courageous sacrifice. "It's a far, far better thing I do than I've ever done," Carton muses at that defining moment. This is far, far better filmmaking, too: a Golden Era marvel of uncanny performances top to bottom, eye-filling crowd scenes (the storming of the Bastille, thronged courtrooms, an eerie festival of public execution) and lasting emotional power. Revolution is in the air!



Ronald Colman isn't even on screen for the most famous lines of his career ("It's a far, far better thing I do..."), but such is the power of the moment and the performance that everybody remembers it anyway. A Tale of Two Cities was the follow-up for producer David O. Selznick and high-class studio MGM to their hit adaptation of another Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield. While not scaling the heights of that impeccable production, Tale gives a tight, straightforward reading of Dickens' story of the French Revolution. Colman plays the drunken romantic Sydney Carton, who pines for the lovely Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan) even though she marries former French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Donald Woods). Meanwhile, back in Paris, the Revolution erupts, and Darnay is fated for the guillotine... perhaps. Along with Colman's expert study in melancholy, the film is crammed with fragrant supporting players, such as Edna May Oliver, Reginald Owen, and the uniquely unsettling Blanche Yurka as the endlessly-knitting Madame Defarge. In a handful of scenes, Basil Rathbone makes the Marquis de Evremonde the quintessence of clueless privilege ("With what I get from these peasants, I can hardly afford to pay my perfume bill"). Journeyman director Jack Conway doesn't have the lovely touch that George Cukor brought to Copperfield, but Selznick hired him because "the picture is melodrama, it must have pace and it must 'pack a wallop.'" It still does. Footnote to film history: Selznick's assistant, Val Lewton, supervised the Revolutionary montage, and hired director Jacques Tourneur for the job; later they would team up on Lewton's great run of B-horror pictures, beginning with Cat People. --Robert Horton

Special Features

Other: Oscar Nominated Short Audioscopicks 2 Classic Cartoons: Hey, Hey Fever and Honeyland Audio-Only Bonus: Radio Show Adaptation Starring Colman Other: Oscar Nominated Short Audioscopicks 2 Classic Cartoons: Hey, Hey Fever and Honeyland Audio-Only Bonus: Radio Show Adaptation Starring Colman

Product Details

  • Actors: Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allan, Edna May Oliver, Reginald Owen, Basil Rathbone
  • Directors: John Conway
  • Format: Full Screen, Closed-captioned, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: October 10, 2006
  • Run Time: 126 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000GRUQL0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,666 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "A Tale of Two Cities" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Linda McDonnell on August 6, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
than a lot of other movies, that's for sure! What a wonderful adaptation of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities". Like so many of the great author's works, this story is crammed full of images famous outside of the work itself: Madame DeFarge and her incessant, malevolent knitting, Dr. Manet lost in his cobbling, Sydney Carton offering the ultimate love sacrifice. Ronald Colman gives a splendid performance as the world-weary Sydney, and looks surprisingly young without his trademark moustache. Among the good supporting cast, Edna May Oliver, as always, steals the show as the prim Miss Pross, chaperone to Lucie Manet, daughter of the unfortunate doctor held captive in the Bastille for half a lifetime. Like all pre-GWTW Selznick pictures, the movie has an air of the antique about it (like "David Copperfield" and "Little Women"), but for a story set in the distant past, that makes sense. It had been many years since I last saw this piece, and what surprised me were the excellently done mob scene when the French peasants charge the Bastille, and when Madame DeFarge denounces Charles Darney in the witness box. Usually, the only scene excerpted from "A Tale of Two Cities" is the last guillotine shot, but I think it's a disservice to the film to not show more of these other great scenes to a larger audience. "It was the best of times" seeing this grand old film--take my work for it, and rent it yourself.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 30, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Originally released for Christmas in 1935, this splendidly produced, atmospheric and magnificently acted film displayed M-G-M's flair for filming literary classics - DAVID COPPERFIELD was released earlier that year - with no expense spared; the storming of the Bastille sequence employed several thousand extras and was filmed on one of Hollywood's largest sets ever. Ronald Colman was intially reluctant to play the role of Sidney Carlton, that charming but dissolute lawyer who commits the ultimate self - sacrifice ...... It took great persuasion to make Colman shave off his trademark moustache for the role of Carlton, but he delivered more than likely his finest performance ( Later in his life, Colman admitted this was his personal favourite of all his roles ). Charles Dicken's stirring classic of seventeenth-century Paris and London and the events surrounding the French Revolution had been filmed as silents on four different occasions -twice each in Great Britain and America - this easily remains the definitive masterpiece. Under Jack Conway's meticulous direction, A TALE OF TWO CITIES offers memorable performances by a fine cast, including the marvelously hammy Blanche Yurka, frightening Lucille LaVerne, vinegary Edna May Oliver, despicable Basil Rathbone, eloquent Henry B. Walthall ( he was the "Little Colonel" in BIRTH OF A NATION ) and, in a radical change of pace, the dimunitive Isabel Jewell, as the pathetic seamstress who accompanies Colman to the place of his execution.
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72 of 77 people found the following review helpful By lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2005
Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
This is an epic film, adapted from Charles Dickens' book of the same name. It is, indeed, a tale of two cities, as the drama in the film swings back and forth between Paris and London. In Paris, France, the seeds of revolution are being sown. A secret underground is already at work, presided over by a Madame Defarge (Blanche Yurka), who, with her husband, runs a small wine shop. These unhappy citizens are seeking to end the tyranny of the aristocracy, whom they view as oppressors of the poor. The worst of the aristocracy is represented by the Marquis St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone), an insufferable, effete aristocrat, who cares for no one but himself, much less for the starving masses outside his door, whom he considers to be less than dogs. There is a scene in the film that illustrates this quite aptly.

Meanwhile, one of the victims of the Marquis, Dr. Manette, an innocent man who has been imprisoned in the Bastille for the last eighteen years without benefit of trial, is finally released, a changed man who has lost touch with reality. Dr. Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie (Elizabeth Allen), who had thought that her father was dead. Under her love and nursing, he recovers a bit and together travel to England to resume their lives. It is on that voyage that they meet a fellow Frenchman, a young, handsome man who goes by the name of Charles Darnay. They do not know that he is the idealistic nephew of the despicable Marquis St. Evremonde.

Once in London, Lucie and Darnay have occasion to meet. Then, he is accused of treason, having been framed by an emissary of the Marquis. Represented at trial by a team of barristers, which includes Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman), a handsome, melancholy barrister with a penchant for drinking.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Simon Davis on June 16, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Of all the fine film versions made of the classic Charles Dicken's tale "A Tale of Two Cities", none can in my opinion compare with this lavish, beautifully wrought version created by the legendary David O. Selznick during his tenure as a producer at MGM in the mid 1930's. All the right elements for creating a film classic are here and combine in a most memorable entertainment experience. A superlative cast, great dialogue, no expense spared on sets, costumes and period flavour and the backing of a perfectionist studio like MGM at its prime, all combine to make "A Tale of Two Cities" a viewing experience to cherish always.
David O. Selznick is still best remembered as the producer of the classic "Gone With The Wind", however his work goes much further back at MGM and earlier at RKO where he was responsible for such efforts as "King Kong", "David Copperfield", "The Prisoner of Zenda", and "A Star is Born" among others. Never however did he produce a finer effort than here in his 1935 version of "A Tale of Two Cities". The film provided Ronald Colman with possibly his greatest role as the frivolous lawyer Sydney Carton who in the face of the bloody French Revolution learns about life and duty and makes the ultimate sacrifice for the well being of those he has grown to love. Colman, always a superb actor is a perfect choice as Carton and he brings to the role not only his beautifully trained voice and presentation but also a real understanding of what the character was about both in the earlier scenes as a drunken no good and later in the exciting scenes during the outbreak of the revolution where he develops a sense of the rightness of some things in the face of adversity.
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Topic From this Discussion
I haven't seen any reviews of the DVD yet. But it's being released by Warner Brothers, who have a fine track record of treating classic films well on DVD, unlike the cheapo public domain type versions you can find. I would expect this will be a similarly admirable effort.
Sep 25, 2006 by GlennH |  See all 2 posts
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