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Love and revenge take the lead in “A Tale of Two Cities” – Warner Archive

Updated: Jun 24, 2022


Lucie Manette-Darnay (Elizabeth Allan) and longtime friend Jarvis Lowry (Claude Gillingwater), watch her husband Charles during a rigged trial as an enemy of the French Revolution.

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Blu-ray; 1935; Not Rated

Best extra: Short vintage featurette about how 3-D cinema works.

WHETHER OR not it’s still a part of high school curricula, Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” was required reading for many of us. The sweeping saga of English lawyer Sydney Carton; the young woman he adores from afar, Lucie Manette; and the French nobleman she loves, Charles Darnay – set against the chaos, cruelty and vengeance of the French Revolution, was adapted for MGM in 1935.

It’s an adventure-romance blending of fact and fiction. Warner Brothers Archive Collection’s latest pristine Blu-ray restoration is a pleasure to watch. It stars Ronald Colman (“Lost Horizon,” “A Double Life”) in one of his most appealing roles as Carton; Elizabeth Allan (“David Copperfield”) as the lovely Lucie; Donald Woods as Darnay; and the great Basil Rathbone, far-removed from his best-known persona of Sherlock Holmes, dripping with villainy as Darnay’s evil uncle, the Marquis de St. Evremonde. The movie has everything, including thousands of extras as the mob of French citizens storming the Bastille and demanding quick, merciless justice in the form of the guillotine. Gleefully watching the aristocrats – as well as some unfortunate innocents – lose their heads is one of literature’s most memorable supporting characters, Madame Defarge (Blanche Yurka). She knits a blanket, incorporating the names of the noble families as they’re executed – especially relishing the Evremondes for whom she holds a particular grudge.

(1) “A Tale of Two Cities” premiered in New York City on December 15, 1935, and received two Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Film Editing. (2) French lady Lucie Manette, who was raised in England learns that her father Dr. Manette is still alive in the infamous Bastille prison in Paris. (3) M. and Mme. Defarge (Mitchell Lewis and Blanche Yurka), with their cackling friend, plot their revenge on the nobility. (4) A French citizen carries his daughter, who was trampled to death by the king's soldiers as they put down a protest demonstration. (5) Lucie’s father, Dr. Manette (Henry B. Walthall), Charles Darnay (Donald Woods), and the Marquis St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone).



This black and white transfer sourced from a new 2K master (1.37:1 aspect ratio) looks very good. Its excellent contrast provides every subtle variant of gray represented and a pleasant filmic grain, but overall sharpness varies from excellent to some softness depending on the source. The wonderful production design and costumes are shown to their best advantage. From the impressive crowd scenes to the intimate close-ups and two-shots, viewers couldn’t ask for more.

The mono DTS-HD Master soundtrack has been restored and it’s very good, with sound effects and the score composed by Herbert Stothart. All is well-balanced, and the dialogue always clear. English subtitles are provided.


The bonus features include the 1942 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of a condensed version of the screenplay, starring Colman and Edna Best, with a Cecil B. DeMille introduction; two 1930s-era MGM color cartoons: “Hey Hey Fever,” with a rather offensive character named Bosko, and “Honeyland,” about bees, featuring an especially cute female bee trio that sounds a lot like the Andrews Sisters.

The 8-minute documentary short, which was nominated for an Oscar, is quite interesting and fun. It shows the then-breakthrough invention of 3-D film and glasses, using some entertaining examples, such as: A slide trombone coming right at the audience; a Spanish dancer clicking her castanets in your face; a girl on a swing kicking her legs out; someone batting a baseball in your direction, and my personal favorite, the illusion of being in a car and driving along New York City’s Riverside Drive, and over the George Washington Bridge.

— Peggy Earle

(1) Lucie testifies at Charles’ hearing for treason on his arrival in England. (2) Lawyer Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman), not quite sober, for the defense. (3&4) Charles testifies and he and Lucie are relieved by the verdict.


(1) Sydney secretly loves Lucie and gives up drinking to please her, but is heartbroken when she marries Charles. (2) Prisoners locked in the infamous Bastille. (3&4) The French citizenry storms the Bastille and frees all the prisoners.


(1) The mob puts all their perceived enemies on show trials, condemning all to death. (2) Lucie’s father pleads, in vain, for Charles’ life. (3) Sydney proceeds with his plan and trades places with Charles. (4) Sydney is led to the guillotine.

“It’s a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.” - Sydney Carton


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