A Tale of Two Cities (1935 film)

A Tale of Two Cities is a 1935 film based upon Charles Dickens' 1859 historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris. The film stars Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton, Donald Woods and Elizabeth Allan. The supporting players include Reginald Owen, Basil Rathbone, Claude Gillingwater, Edna May Oliver and Blanche Yurka. It was directed by Jack Conway from a screenplay by W. P. Lipscomb and S. N. Behrman. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Film Editing.

A Tale of Two Cities
A Tale of Two Cities 1935 film.JPG
1935 US Theatrical Poster
Directed byJack Conway
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Written byW. P. Lipscomb
S. N. Behrman
Based onA Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
StarringRonald Colman
Elizabeth Allan
Music byHerbert Stothart
CinematographyOliver T. Marsh
Edited byConrad A. Nervig
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 27, 1935 (1935-12-27)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.3 million (worldwide rentals)[1]

The story is set in France and England and spans several years before and during the French Revolution. It deals with the evils that precipitated the Revolution and with an innocent family and their friends caught up in the horrors of the Terror. Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who has rejected his rank and moved to England, and Sidney Carton, a perpetually intoxicated English advocate, both fall in love at first sight of Lucie Manette. Lucie has brought her father to England to recover from years of unjust imprisonment in France. She marries Darnay and they befriend Carton. In the end, Carton saves Darnay's life by taking his place at the guillotine. The film is generally regarded as the best cinematic version of Dickens' novel and the best performance in Colman's career.[2]


The film opens with a portion of the famed introduction to the novel: “ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us... In short, it was a period very like the present...” Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan) and her servant and companion Miss Pross (Edna May Oliver) are informed by banker Mr. Jarvis Lorry (Claude Gillingwater) that her father, Dr. Alexandre Mannette (Henry B. Walthall) is not dead, but has been a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years before finally being rescued. She travels with Mr. Lorry to Paris to take her father to her home in England. Dr. Manette has been cared for by a former servant, Ernest De Farge (Mitchell Lewis), and his wife (Blanche Yurka). The old man's mind has given way during his long ordeal, but Lucie's tender care begins to restore his sanity.

On the return trip across the English Channel, Lucie meets Charles Darnay (Donald Woods), a French aristocrat who, unlike his uncle, the Marquis de St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone), is sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed and impoverished French masses. He has denounced his uncle, relinquished his title and is going to England to begin a new life. The marquis has Darnay framed for treason, but he is saved by the highly proficient but cynical lawyer Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman). Carton goes drinking with Barsad (Walter Catlett), the main prosecution witness, and tricks him into admitting that he framed Darnay. When Barsad is called to testify, he is horrified to discover that Carton is a member of the defense. He recants his testimony to save himself, and Darnay is acquitted.

Carton is thanked by Lucie. He quickly falls in love with her, but comes to realize that it is hopeless.

At Christmas, Darnay tells Dr. Manette about his family; Manette forgives him, but reserves the right to tell Lucie himself. On their way to church, the family invites Carton to join them. Afterwards, she invites him into the house. He declines because he is drunk; she tells him she would love to have him for a friend.

Lucie and Darnay marry and have a daughter, also named Lucie, who is very fond of Carton. By this time, the French Revolution is beginning. Charles' uncle is one of its first victims, stabbed in his bed by a man whose child had been fatally run down by his coach. The long-suffering peasants vent their fury on the aristocrats, condemning scores daily to Madame Guillotine. Darnay is tricked into returning to Paris and is arrested. Dr. Manette pleads for mercy for his son-in-law, but Madame De Farge, seeking revenge against all the Evremondes (for a past wrong done to her sister), convinces the tribunal to sentence him to death, using a letter Dr. Manette wrote while in prison, cursing and denouncing the entire Evremonde family.

Upon learning of Darnay's imprisonment, Carton travels to Paris to comfort Lucie. He devises a desperate rescue plan. Carton finds Barsad and discovers he is now a spy in the prisons. Carton overcomes Barsad's reluctance to help him with his scheme by threatening to reveal that Barsad had been a spy for the marquis. Carton visits Darnay in his cell. There he renders the prisoner unconscious with a drug, switches clothes with him, and finishes the letter Darnay has been writing to Lucie and puts it in Darnay's pocket. Darnay is carried out without anyone noticing the switch.

Madame De Farge, her thirst for vengeance still unquenched, goes to provoke Lucie into denouncing the Republic, but she is intercepted by Miss Pross inside the now-vacated apartment. Madame De Farge, suspecting the truth, pulls out a pistol, but in the ensuing struggle, Pross kills her.

Meanwhile, only a condemned, innocent seamstress (Isabel Jewell) notices Carton's substitution, but keeps quiet. She draws comfort from his bravery as they ride in the same cart to the guillotine. As Carton stands at the foot of the guillotine, drums roll and then fade away as the camera pans up past the guillotine to the city and the sky above. His voice is heard saying, "It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."



Filming ran from June 4, 1935, to August 19, 1935[4] The picture premiered in New York City on December 15, 1935.

The closing credits spell the name De Farge. Dickens spelled it Defarge in the novel.

According to TCM's Genevieve McGillicuddy, “Selznick had no trouble finding a lead actor... Ronald Colman had coveted the part since he began his career and knew the novel intimately. In an interview seven years before being cast as Sydney Carton, Colman reflected on Dickens' forte for characterization, stating that Carton 'has lived for me since the first instant I discovered him in the pages of the novel.' "[5]

In the book, Carton and Darnay are supposed to be as alike as twins. According to TCM, Selznick wanted Colman to play both roles, but Colman refused because of his experience with The Masquerader (1933). Selznick later commented, "I am glad now that he held out for that, because I think a great deal of the illusion of the picture might have been lost had Colman rescued Colman and had Colman gone to the guillotine so that Colman could go away with Lucie." In 1937, Colman did play a dual role for Selznick in The Prisoner of Zenda.[2]

Judith Anderson, May Robson, Emily Fitzroy and Lucille LaVerne all tested for Madame De Farge. LaVerne's portrayal in another role, as "The Vengeance", inspired the character of the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: She provided the voices for both the Queen and the hag. Blanche Yurka, a noted Broadway actress at the time, made her film debut playing Madame De Farge.[2]


Andre Sennwald wrote in The New York Times of December 26, 1935: "Having given us 'David Copperfield', Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer now heaps up more Dickensian magic with a prodigally stirring production of 'A Tale of Two Cities' ... For more than two hours it crowds the screen with beauty and excitement, sparing nothing in its recital of the Englishmen who were caught up in the blood and terror of the French Revolution ... The drama achieves a crisis of extraordinary effectiveness at the guillotine, leaving the audience quivering under its emotional sledge-hammer blows ... Ronald Colman gives his ablest performance in years as Sydney Carton and a score of excellent players are at their best in it ... Only Donald Woods's Darnay is inferior, an unpleasant study in juvenile virtue. It struck me, too, that Blanche Yurka was guilty of tearing an emotion to tatters in the rôle of Madame De Farge ... you can be sure that 'A Tale of Two Cities' will cause a vast rearranging of ten-best lists."[6]

The Marquis St. Evrémonde was nominated for the 2003 American Film Institute list AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains.[7]


  1. ^ a b Glancy, H. Mark "When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939–1945" (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. ^ a b c "A Tale of Two Cities (1935) - Notes - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  3. ^ Quirk, Lawrence, The Films of Ronald Colman. Lyle Stuart, 1979.
  4. ^ "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  5. ^ "A Tale of Two Cities (1935) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-02-14.
  6. ^ Sennwald, Andre (December 26, 1935). "Ronald Colman in 'A Tale of Two Cites,' at the Capitol – 'If You Could Only Cook.'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2009.
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.

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