A Tale of Two Cities
(1935), 120 min. b&w

Rathbone as the Marquis St. Evremonde

One of my favorite films, A Tale of Two Cities, stars Ronald Colman and Elizabeth Allan, and features an exceptional performance by Basil Rathbone as the Marquis de St. Evremonde. 

The film is based on the classic novel by Charles Dickens published in 1859. Dickens believed it to be the best story he had ever written. It combines both vivid historical interpretation with Dicken's genius for character portrayal. Those who love Charles Dickens will not be disappointed. Most of the dialogue is lifted directly from the pages of the novel. It is a faithful adaptation. The screenplay is of course an abridged version of the story, and it is less complicated than novel. Dickens tends to weave a convoluted plot with many loose ends, which he ties together at the end. In the screenplay, some of these ends are tied together early on, which makes it easier to follow the plot.The Marquis St. Evremonde

The two cities are London and Paris at the time of the French Revolution in the 1790s. The story depicts the lives of some of the people involved in and affected by the French Revolution. The Marquis de St Evremonde (Rathbone) is one of the French ruling aristocracy who cruelly mistreats the ordinary struggling people. He refers to the peasants as "dogs," "pigs," "vermin" and "idiots." After running over and killing a child, the Marquis climbs out of his carriage and speaks contemptuously to the gathering crowd:

"It is extraordinary to me," says he, " that you people cannot take care of yourselves and your children. One or the other of you is forever in the way. How do I know what injury you have done my horses?"

He then drives away with the air of someone who had accidentally broken some common thing and paid for it. Dickens used the character of the Marquis to personify the callous ruling class, living in luxury while the peasants starve. Unknown to the aristocracy, a group calling themselves the jacquerie were preparing to revolt. Later in the film one of them murders the Marquis.Gabelle, Darnay, and the Marquis

Charles Darnay, a nephew of the Marquis, renounces his heritage due to the cruelties of the French ruling aristocracy. He tells his uncle, "Our name is detested more than any name in France." He emigrates to England and marries Lucie Manette, the daughter of a doctor who had been imprisoned in the notorious Bastille prison for 18 years. During the Revolution, Darnay travels back to Paris in order to rescue Monsieur Gabelle, who was accused of serving the aristocracy, but Darnay is himself arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death. Sydney Carton, a London barrister who closely resembles Darnay, smuggles him out of prison. Carton then takes Darnay's place on the scaffold, adding redemption through self-sacrifice to this poignant tale of human suffering.

Rathbone's portrayal of the Marquis was perfect. In the novel he is described as having a handsome face, yet with a look of treachery and cruelty. The Marquis also appeared haughty, dignified, contemptuous, calm, and polished, yet ominous. The cast and crew pulled together magnificently and really made the French Revolution come to life.

 

Fritz Lieber, about to murder the Marquis
One of the jacquerie stabs the Marquis.

See more photos on page two.

Courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, here are some video clips from A Tale of Two Cities:

The Reissue Trailer
Scenes introducing Basil Rathbone's character

Another great clip from A Tale of Two Cities is posted on YouTube:  The Marquis getting ready for bed (01:24)

 

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ............. Marquis St Evremonde Production Co. ............. MGM
Ronald Colman ............. Sidney Carton   Producer ........................ David O. Selznick
Elizabeth Allen ............. Lucie Manette   Director .......................... Jack Conway
Edna May Oliver ........... Miss Pross   Screenplay .................... W.P. Lipscomb and
  S.N. Behrman
Blanche Yurka ............ .Mme. DeFarge   (based on the novel by Charles Dickens)
Henry B. Walthall ........ Dr. Manette   Cinematographer ......... Oliver T. Marsh
Donald Woods ............ Charles Darnay   Editor ............................ Conrad A. Nervig
Reginald Owen ........... Stryver   Music Composer ........ Herbert Stothart
Walter Catlett ............. Barsad   Art Directors ............... Cedric Gibbons and
Fritz Lieber .................. Gaspard       Frederic Hope
H.B. Warner ................ Gabelle   Set Decorator ................ Edwin B. Willis
Mitchell Lewis .......... Ernest DeFarge   Costume Design ........... Dolly Tree
Claude Gillingwater ...... Jarvis Lorry    
Billy Bevan .................. Jerry Cruncher      
Isabel Jewell ................ Seamstress      
Lucille La Verne ........... La Vengeance      
         

 Images on this page and page two are from the film "A Tale of Two Cities," copyright MGM.

 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2011