- A Tale of Two Cities review by Steve Mason
MGM drafted in the ranks of British expats, for this exuberant telling of the Dickens classic. Ronald Colman even shaved off his trademark moustache to play the complicated, fascinating tragic hero Sidney Carton. He is most charismatic and sympathetic and the calm centre of much flamboyant character acting. Basil Rathbone also makes a mark as the aloof, tyrannical aristocrat Evrémonde.
The film is full of rich historical detail that brings the Paris and London in the brutal regimes of the eighteenth century to life in all its various social strata. The graverobbers, the bankers and the highwaymen. The sets are magnificent and the action scenes hugely ambitious, particularly the storming of the Bastille by a cast of many thousands.
The main weakness is the curiously un-starry casting of b-film stalwart Elizabeth Allen as Lucie Manette. Perhaps the second half of the film isn't quite as stunning as the first as it cuts out the rich historical detail in order to get the story done. But I think it is easily the best of the run of classic European historical yarns produced by Hollywood in the 1930s.
And it is the ultimate adaptation of this thrilling story. It is curious that MGM presented this film of a starving proletariat sparking a revolution to an American public suffering the Great Depression. I don't think it is too far fetched to read the film as support for Roosevelt's New Deal. But primarily, this is an exciting, inspiring and flavourful spectacle.
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