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Jack Conway
Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allan, Donald Woods
Writing Credits:
WP Lipscomb, SN Behrman

Set during the French Revolution, two men find themselves in love with the same woman.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 2/9/2021

• 1942 Lux Theatre Radio Adaptation
• 3 Short Films
• Trailer


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A Tale Of Two Cities [Blu-Ray] (1935)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 3, 2021)

Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities debuted in 1859. The book earned its first cinematic adaptation in 1911 and saw three more silent film versions before we got this “talkie” edition in 1935.

Set during the French Revolution in the late 18th century, Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan) long believed that her father Dr. Alexandre Mannette (Henry B. Walthall) died years earlier. However, it turns out Alexandre was imprisoned in the Bastille and just recently became freed.

As Lucie brings her dad back to England, she meets French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) and they fall in love. Charles feels sympathetic to the poor of France, and that means he runs up against his tyrannical uncle, the Marquis de St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone).

When the Marquis attempts to frame Charles for treason, alcoholic but skilled barrister Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman) saves him. However, complications arise when Sydney becomes smitten by Lucie and a love triangle forms.

As noted earlier, this 1935 release represents the fifth film version to hit screens. Surprisingly, Tale only received two more theatrical adaptations since then, one in 1958 and one in 1980.

Of course, Tale saw new renditions via other media, with six TV adaptations, for example. However, even those appear to halt after 1989, which makes me wonder why Tale seems to have been largely abandoned as a source of filmed versions.

Perhaps some thought that the 1935 Tale offered a definitive take on the property and any updates would fall short. That seems unlikely, though, for while the 1935 movie works pretty well, it shows room for improvement.

In particular, pacing can become a concern, particularly around the movie’s midpoint. We spent much of the first half with an emphasis on the triangle, but once we get to the French Revolution, the focus shifts.

For a decent chunk of film, Tale seems to forget about its lead characters, as it emphasizes the rebellion in France. We eventually reconnect with Sydney and company, but the movie leaves them off-screen for too long.

Despite that issue, Tale manages to maintain our interest pretty well. The character elements of the first half manage evocative material but avoid sappiness for the most part, largely due to Colman’s performance.

Frankly, Allan and Woods bring little to their roles. They look attractive and serve their parts in a competent manner, but they never create especially involving characters.

Happily, Colman compensates, and since he becomes the lead, this carries a lot of the film. He gives Sydney the right insouciant attitude and risks the temptation to overplay his drunken nature. Colman grounds the movie and manages to connect the various segments well.

Unsurprisingly, Tale tends to feel like a product of its era, and it can come across as excessively theatrical at times. Still, compared to other films from this period, Tale feels relatively subdued, and it manages to reach the emotions found in the source.

All of this adds up to a pretty good adaptation of a classic novel. While I can’t claim Tale dazzles, it becomes a more than competent take on the property.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

A Tale of Two Cities appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite a few inconsistencies, this became a fairly positive presentation.

In general, sharpness satisfied, as the movie usually appeared well-defined. Some softness popped up for the occasional shot, but the majority of the flick boasted fairly nice delineation.

Shimmering and jaggies remained absent, and edge haloes also failed to appear. The movie’s grain structure felt natural, and print flaws failed to mar the proceedings.

Blacks appeared deep and dark, and contrast came across well. Shadows generally held up nicely, though a few nighttime exteriors displayed a bit of murkiness. Though the image didn’t excel, it still gave us a mostly appealing transfer.

Similar thoughts greeted the sturdy DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Tale, as it held up nicely over the decades. Speech could seem a bit thin at times, but lines were intelligible and concise enough.

Music and effects displayed the expected restricted dynamic range, but they showed acceptable clarity and didn’t suffer from distortion. The mix lacked overt defects, though it could seem a bit hissy. This was a more than competent track for a movie from 1935.

We get a few extras here, and a 1942 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast runs 58 minutes, 30 seconds. It brings back Ronald Colman as the lead and casts Edna Best as Lucie.

Unsurprisingly, the radio version loses a lot from the movie, and it restructures chunks of the story. Still, it becomes an interesting take on the property, and we find voice talent legends like Verna Felton and Arthur Q. Bryan along for the ride.

In addition to the reissue trailer, we find three shorts from this era: Audioscopiks (8:14), Hey-Hey Fever (8:25) and Honeyland (10:07).

Both Fever and Honeyland offer entries in the “Happy Harmonies” series of animated shorts, basically a cut-rate riff on Disney’s Silly Symphonies.

Fever focuses on Bosko as he fantasizes about his part in various Mother Goose stories. Honeyland offers the antics of bees.

Bosko offered a fairly blatant ripoff of Mickey Mouse, one made more explicit because his pet Bruno looked nearly exactly the same as Pluto. Oddly, Bosko appears to be a Black youngster, though not one played for terrible stereotypes – at least not in this one cartoon. For the most part, Fever seems bland but innocuous.

Honeyland features singing bees as they go about their pollen-related business. It’s a better short in terms of technical animation compared to Fever but it also remains dull and blah.

As for Audioscopiks, it offers a live-action explanation and demonstration of then-new 3D film techniques. Shot 3D, the short loses power here since the disc presents it 2D.

It’s an interesting curiosity, I guess, especially since most film fans don’t realize 3D movies existed prior to the 1950s “golden age”. Audioscopiks also refers to the use of color, but we get the short in black and white.

As an adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic, 1935’s A Tale of Two Cities becomes a largely well-rendered story. Despite some drawbacks, it mostly relates the narrative and characters in a positive manner. The Blu-ray comes with dated but acceptable picture and audio as well as a few bonus materials. This ends up as a solid version of the book.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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