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4.7 out of 5 stars
A Tale of Two Cities
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
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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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS TapeVerified 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. It is at the trial that Carton makes the acquaintance of Lucie Manette, for whom he develops a deep and abiding secret love. Carton becomes a welcome and frequent visitor to the Manette home, where Lucie holds him in great esteem and considers him her greatest friend. Carton thrives under her attention. So, when she tells him that she is going to be marrying Charles Darnay, Carton simply begins his downward spiral anew. Shortly after, Lucie becomes Mrs. Darnay. Later, Carton resumes his visits with Lucie, none the wiser of his feelings for her. Carton eventually settles for being a favorite of Lucie and Darnay's young daughter, who is watched over by Lucie's former nanny and companion, Miss Pross (Edna May Oliver).

When the revolution in France begins, all hell breaks looks, with Madame Defarge as its spokesperson. She now relentlessly knits shrouds for victims of the guillotine, as the aristocracy and anyone affiliated with them are sentenced to death by kangaroo courts presided over by "citizens". Under false pretenses, Darnay is lured back to France. Even though he knows that he is at risk, he goes, thinking that he will be helping his former tutor and friend, who has been arrested for having been employed by the Marquis St. Evremonde, the Marquis having long since been murdered. When Darnay arrives in Paris, he is arrested as a member of the aristocracy, despite having renounced his title long ago. He is imprisoned, and his wife, daughter, father-in-law, Miss Pross, the family banker, and Sidney Carton, all go to Paris in hopes of helping him. Dr. Manette testifies on behalf of his son-in-law at trial, and it looks as if Darnay may be set free, as the people seem persuaded by the eloquent plea of the man who spent eighteen years unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille. Then, an outraged Madame Defarge steps up to home plate. At Darnay's trial, she rallies her fellow citizens with her revolutionary rhetoric and gets the verdict that she desires.

While Darnay awaits his turn at the guillotine, Carton sees that there is something he can do to help his beloved Lucie. He can return Charles to her. He concocts a daring plan, so that instead of Darnay, the guillotine will meet with him, instead. It is one of the most memorable, redemptive self-sacrifices ever filmed. He also arranges for them to flee France immediately, as the by now insanely bloodthirsty Madame Defarge, aware that Darnay has a child, wants all the descendants of the Marquis St. Evremonde to make contact with the guillotine. Madame Defarge almost succeeds but for the fact that she runs into the formidable Miss Pross. The tangle between these two at the eleventh hour makes for one of the film's most memorable scenes.

This is a superlative film. The cast is stellar and gives performances that are exceptional. The two main standouts are Ronald Colman and Blanche Yurka. Ronald Colman gives a sensitive, restrained performance as Sidney Carlton, the lawyer on the skids, who finally has an opportunity to show his love for Lucie in a way that will be meaningful to her. Moreover, in portraying an attorney with a drinking problem, he does so with a deft subtlety, getting the point across without over doing it. His face shows a myriad of emotions, and his suffering is etched on it, visible with every glance. His velvet voice, as always, keeps the viewer riveted to the screen. Blanche Yurka gives a powerful and compelling performance as the commanding Madame Defarge, who goes over the deep end at the last. Basil Rathbone is excellent as the cruel and narcissistic Marquis St. Evremonde, his every word and action dripping with contempt for the people of France. Of course, who could forget the indomitable Edna May Oliver, who has one of the most memorable scenes in the film, when Madame Defarge crosses her path at a most inopportune moment? The rest of the cast, too many to mention, individually contributes successfully to making this a worthy film, indeed. It should be in the personal collection of all those who appreciate vintage films. Bravo!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 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. The story of "A Tale of Two Cities", is a well known one of two men both in love with the same women with one (Carton) undergoing the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the woman he loves but can never possess. This tale is played out against the colourful but dangerous tapestry of the revolution in France in 1789. Selznick pulled out all the stops with this film which boasts production values unsurpassed at the time. Recreated vividly for the camera are the scenes depicting the storming of the Bastille (involving thousands of extras filmed entirely on the MGM backlot), revolutionary Paris in all its opulence and squalor, the bogus revolutionary tribunals which condemmned thousands of innocent people to the death sentence and most vividly the ghastly executions by the infamous Guillotine.
Apart from Ronald Colman's towering central performance the film has many other unforgettable performances which really capture the wonderful richness of Charles Dicken's characters. The beautiful Elizabeth Allan also had one of her best roles as Lucie Manette the object of Carton's affection who falls in love with and marries Charles Darney ( handsome Donald Woods), a naive young French aristocrat who ultimately leds Carton to his destiny in revolutionary Paris when he exchanges places with him on the eve of his execution for being an "enemy" of the Republic. Legendary character actress Edna May Oliver had I firmly believe her best remembered role here as the bossy Miss Pross, the guardian of Lucie who goes through all the visitudes of the revolution to stay by the side of and protect her "Lady bird". She is wonderful in her playing and really is one of the main outstanding elements that make "A Tale of Two Cities" the classic it is. Basil Rathbone plays to the hilt his detestable villian role of the Marquis St. Evermonde who is Charles Darnay's uncle. Working with a totally horrid character , being the superb actor he was, Rathbone manages to create a wonderfully memorable villian that is at the basis of the whole story. The scene of his carriage running over a peasant boy and the Marquise being annoyed that it might have upset his horses is a tragically memorable moment typical of Dicken's pen when writing about the clash of the social classes but to today's viewer like myself it will bring tears to your eyes over the wretched conditions the peasantry lived under at this time. Equally memorable are the actors and actresses playing the peasants in the story. Of all the unforgettable performances of the notorius Madame Defarge over the years none have elicpsed Blanche Yurka's frentic playing of the desperate revolutionary out for revenge. She is both frightening and tragic when one learns of her families fate at the hands of the Marquise St. Evremonde.The vision of her endlessly knitting while people go to their deaths is one of the dramatic highights of this stirring tale. Lucille La Verne (the voice of the wicked witch in Disney's classic "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), Reginald Owen, Mitchell Lewis and Henry B. Walthall complete the sterling cast and provide the story with a wealth of beautiful characterisations.
As a history lesson this version of "A Tale of Two Cities", with its historically accurate look and feel for the times really cannot be bettered. I love it most of all the versions as it shows all the departments of the legendary MGM studios combining in one totally polished production from the great years of Hollywood movie making. A film on this scale could barely be attempted today and it says alot for the genius of David O. Selnick's vision, and the performances by Ronald Colman and supporting cast that it has become "THE" definitive version of Charles Dicken's classic novel. Sit back and allow yourself to be swept away by the colour and tragedy of the French Revolution in David O. Selznick's classic "A Tale of Two Cities".
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
With peerless b&w photography and an almost flawless cast, this adaptation of Dickens is riveting throughout. The transitions between cities are surprising and subtle, and the revolution scenes are thrilling, particularly when they take a leaf out of the silent movies with brilliant use of captioning to show the spread of the ferment. This is a very pacy and emotionally well observed film. Ronald Colman is totally endearing and watchable as the flawed Sydney Carton - and his voice is as ever, honey. And look out for the confrontation between Blanche Yurka's demented Madame Lafargue (English PIG!) and Edna May Oliver's wonderful Miss Pross (I'm your match!) - a battle of the titans indeed.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2006
Format: DVD
I see that so many people have reviewed this wonderful movie.So I only feel inclined to comment the final words/thoughts of Sidney Carton as delivered by one of the best actors I've ever had the pleasure of watching.These few words uttered by a lesser actor would most likely have proved to be the ultimate kitsch,but Ronald Colman just drains his most versatile and beautiful voice of all its colour in order to reveal these words' sincerety and ultimate beauty.They are so plain that one senses how deep inside they must stem from.Magnificent
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2000
Format: VHS TapeVerified Purchase
Probably the best of all the MGM costume dramas. Lavish, deeply felt, with a sublime ending. Ronald Colman gives one of the cinema's great movie star turns. The supporting cast is almost uniformly excellent.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon July 14, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Ronald Colman is Sydney Carton a London barrister. One man gives up his life so that another man may live during these turbulent times in France. However, the backdrop of this story takes center stage. The images of the Reign of Terror are haunting. This can be credited to Jacques Tourneur (director of CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, OUT OF THE PAST, CURSE OF THE DEMON and WAR GODS OF THE DEEP) who worked on the Revolution sequences even though full directorial credit is given to Jack Conway. Jacques Tourneur was in fact hired by Producer David O. Selznick as production supervisor for these scenes. Mammoth sets of the Bastille were constructed as well as surrounding Parisian structures. Jacques Tourneur directed the frenetic scenes when the Bastille was stormed utilizing thousands of extras in an impressive but eerily emotional view of human suffering and loss of life. This is unforgettable and impressionable filmmaking.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2005
Format: VHS Tape
So many folks already know the plot and resolution to "The Tale of Two Cities", that a detailed review is unnecessary. This may lessen the suspense but should not diminish the appreciation for this fine movie. This is a well-done MGM classic from the old school. TTC is set against the French Revolution of 1789, but the absence of French accents does not detract. Neither does a "Paris" obviously shot on a Hollywood back lot. Ronald Colman is the lead and virtually carries the picture. He plays a slacker of a London lawyer who clears a young Frenchman, Donald Woods, of trumped up charges. Woods had moved to England to escape the treacherous atmosphere of smoldering Paris. Woods' uncle, played by Basil Rathbone, planted the fake charges. BR is over the top as an effete, haughty, snobbish French aristocrat. That Colman and Woods are in love with the same young woman, Elizabeth Allen, is the crux of TTC. Woods wins her hand but makes the mistake of returning to Paris-and is promptly thrown into the cooler and sentenced to death. To prove his amour for Allen, Colman visits Woods in prison -and switches places on the waiting list for the guillotine! The subrogation is completely believable, not maudlin in the least. TTC moves briskly; most will not notice the two-hour run time. Less time would have been inadequate for the involved plot. As it is, viewers should still watch TTC closely for fullest appreciation. Some key scenes are brief! TTC is shot in beautiful black and white-perfect for the gloomy subject matter. Why anyone would colorize-or remake! - this classic is a mystery. The original cannot be improved upon. This reviewer was so impressed with the film, he bought the book, a perfect compliment/complement to any self-respecting movie.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2007
Format: DVD
Conway's rich, peerless adaptation of Charles Dickens's famous novel ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times") succeeds on the merits of its lavish production design and exquisite, tone-perfect acting from the entire cast--overseen, of course, by MGM honcho David O. Selznick. Colman delivers his crowning screen performance as the cynical, boozing Carton, and when he utters the famously cathartic line "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done," only the most hardened could fail to be moved. Great support from Blanche Yurka, Basil Rathbone, and Edna May Oliver make this a sumptuous gem worth visiting again and again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
The fact this movie was not selected as one of the AFI's top 100 movies is nothing short of highway robbery. Includes one of the most unforgettable endings in movie history. Ronald Colman as Sidney Carton is at his best, and that IS saying a lot. Please MGM, give this one a thorough restoration and release it on DVD as soon as possible.
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