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A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities(1958)

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teaser A Tale of Two Cities (1958)

Set on the eve of the French Revolution in both England and France, director Ralph Thomas's adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1859 literary classic, A Tale of Two Cities (1958), follows the intertwined fates of French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Paul Guers) and British lawyer Sydney Carton (Dirk Bogarde).

The film opens by establishing the cruel impact that France's aristocracy has on the peasants and common folk under its domain. When kind doctor Alexandre Manette (Stephen Murray) dares help the ravaged serfs on the estate of the Marquis St. Evremonde (Christopher Lee), he is imprisoned in the Bastille. Decades later, he is freed and his daughter, Lucie Manette (Dorothy Tutin), marries a relative of that debauched aristocrat, now known as Charles Darnay, who has renounced his own affiliation with the cruel tyrannical Evremondes.

When Darnay is accused of treason by the treacherous Barsad (Donald Pleasence), he is defended by Sydney Carton, a jaded lawyer fond of wine and cynicism, who nevertheless wins Darnay's freedom. But Carton's victory is bittersweet. He is also hopelessly smitten with the lovely Lucie, who is in turn in love with Darnay. But fate conspires to test that love when Darnay is imprisoned upon his return to France by a vicious revolutionary mob anxious to execute him as a symbol of the toppled aristocracy.

Bogarde makes the biggest impression in this version of Dickens' classic as a disillusioned man with little faith in humanity who surprises everyone with a self-sacrificing gesture in the film's final act. Besides Bogarde, A Tale of Two Cities features a distinguished cast of British film notables including two prolific stars of the British screen who specialized in menacing performances, Donald Pleasence and Christopher Lee. Over a long film career, Pleasence created many memorable characters, including the tormented psychiatrist trying to stop the killer in Halloween (1978) and its many sequels and his portrait of James Bond's arch nemesis in You Only Live Twice (1967), considered the inspiration for Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies. After appearing in A Tale of Two Cities, Lee would go on to become one of England's greatest stars in the stylish, iconoclastic Hammer Film Productions horror films of the late '50s and '60s, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).

Thomas's film adaptation is by no means understated filmmaking. His montage of rampaging mobs sacking the city in the midst of the French Revolution is typically hysterical, down to the frenzied, garish expressions of the peasants superimposed on all of that melee. But his filmmaking is also unabashedly button-pushing, as when he sketches the cruel dichotomy between the smug, aloof, uncaring aristocrats with the squalid life of the peasants who are caked in filth, wear tattered cloths, and when a wine barrel spills open in the middle of their street, scramble to drink the mess as it flows into the gutters.

A Tale of Two Cities had been adapted five times previously to Ralph Thomas's 1958 version, though Thomas's retelling is considered one of the most faithful to Dickens' novel.

Director: Ralph Thomas
Producer: Betty E. Box
Screenplay: T.E.B. Clarke from the novel by Charles Dickens
Cinematography: Ernest Steward
Production Design: Carmen Dillon
Music: Richard Addinsell
Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Sydney Carton), Dorothy Tutin (Lucie Manette), Paul Guers (Charles Darnay), Marie Versini (Marie Gabelle), Ian Bannen (Gabelle), Cecil Parker (Jarvis Lorry), Stephen Murray (Dr. Alexandre Manette).

by Felicia Feaster

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