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. The story is set in the French Revolution and deals with two men who love the same woman. The film is generally regarded as the best cinematic version of Dickens' novel.

A Tale of Two Cities
1935 US Theatrical Poster
Directed byJack Conway
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Written byW. P. Lipscomb (screenplay)
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]


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 Defarge (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 tyrannical 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 vindictive 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 lied. When Barsad is called to testify, he is horrified to discover that Carton is one of the defense attorneys, and suddenly realizes that his testimony was wrong. Darnay is acquitted.

Carton is thanked by Lucie, who had been a witness at the trial. He quickly falls in love with her, but comes to realize that it is hopeless. Carton is jealous of Darnay and the obvious attraction Darnay and Lucie have for each other. Nevertheless, Carton and Lucie become close friends. Lucie and Darnay are eventually married and they have a daughter, also named Lucie.

By this time, the French Revolution has begun. 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 Defarge, seeking revenge against all the Evremondes, regardless of guilt or innocence, convinces the tribunal to sentence him to death with 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 soon realizes that the family is in grave danger. When Lorry tries to convince him otherwise, Carton tells him that Madame Defarge will stop at nothing to get the vengeance she craves for. He comes up with a desperate rescue plan to stop her. When informed that his old acquaintance Barsad is in Paris, Carton finds him and discovers he is now a spy in the prisons. When Barsad hesitates to help Carton visit Darnay in prison, Carton threatens to blackmail him by revealing his secret about being a paid spy for the Marquis to the tribunal. Barsad agrees to help, and after Carton sees Darnay in his cell, he drugs him unconscious, switches places with him, and finishes the letter Darnay has been writing to Lucie and puts it in Darnay's pocket. Barsad and the guard carry Darnay out to be reunited with his family.

Madame Defarge, her thirst for vengeance still unsatisfied, goes to provoke Lucie into denouncing the Republic, but she is intercepted by Miss Pross, who locks her inside the apartment in an attempt to prevent her from finding Lucie. Madame DeFarge pulls a pistol on Pross and in the ensuing struggle, Defarge is killed by Miss Pross. She clutches her ear and runs from the scene.

Meanwhile, only a condemned, innocent seamstress (Isabel Jewell) notices Carton's substitution, but keeps quiet. She draws comfort from his heroism as they ride in the same cart to the guillotine. As the camera rises just before the blade falls, Carton's 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."


Faye Chaldecott is the last surviving cast member. (DOB 9/14/1928 - Age 90)


Critical reception

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 Defarge ... you can be sure that 'A Tale of Two Cities' will cause a vast rearranging of ten-best lists."[3]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. Glancy, H. Mark "When Hollywood Loved Britain: The Hollywood 'British' Film 1939–1945" (Manchester University Press, 1999)
  2. Quirk, Lawrence, The Films of Ronald Colman. Lyle Stuart, 1979.
  3. 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.
  4. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
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