Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

In director Jack Conway's and MGM's interpretation of the classic 1859 Charles Dickens story of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror:

  • the film's opening title card: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, we had everything before us, we had nothing before short, it was a period very like the present..."
  • after learning that her father Dr. Alexandre Mannette (Henry B. Walthall) was not dead, but had been unjustly imprisoned in the infamous Bastille in France for 18 years, pretty French girl Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan) went to Paris; in a stirring scene, she was reunited with her bearded, broken-down father in an upstairs room of a tavern owned by Ernest Defarge (Mitchell Lewis), and his wife Madame Defarge (Blanche Yurka) (who were instigating a plot to overthrow the government); Lucie brought her father back to England to recover from his incarceration
The Main Characters

Lucie Manette (Elizabeth Allan)

Lucie's Father Dr. Alexandre Mannette (Henry B. Walthall)

Marquis de St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone)

Ernest Defarge (Mitchell Lewis) wife Madame Defarge (Blanche Yurka)

Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) - the Marquis' Nephew

Lawyer Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman)
  • the vicious French aristocrat Marquis de St. Evremonde (Basil Rathbone) was introduced as heartless and cruel when his speeding carriage ran over and killed a poor French peasant boy in the streets of Paris outside the Defarge's shop; he emerged from his carriage and callously and remorselessly told the onlookers: "It's extraordinary to me that you people cannot take care of yourselves and your children. One or the other of you is forever in the way. How do you know what injury you might do to my horses?"
  • the callow and idealistic French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) announced to his disreputable and vicious uncle, the Marquis de St. Evremonde, that he was giving up his title and rank and emigrating to England; on their passage to England, he met Lucie and became her fiancee (and eventually they married)
  • soon after Darnay arrived in England, the Marquis framed his nephew for treason - Darnay was charged with spying against England: (Newspaper Article: "Lists of His Majesty's forces have been found in the possession of one Charles Darnay, a young Frenchman"); he was apprehended and held for trial at the Old Bailey
  • dissipated and frequently drunk English lawyer Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman) agreed to defend Darnay in court; just before the trial, the cunning Carton was able to get the main prosecution witness, a banker named Barsad (Walter Catlett) during a drinking bout, to admit that Darnay was framed; when Carton turned to reveal himself in court that he was Darnay's defense lawyer, the defendant was soon after acquitted
  • at the same time, Carton expressed his devotion and love for Lucie: ("I wonder if you know how much your happiness means to me"), although was surprised and taken aback when she announced that she was marrying Charles Darnay
  • during the French Revolution at this time - an uprising grew in France between the peasants and the aristocrats, and many people lost their lives to the guillotine; the Marquis was stabbed to death while he slept by one of the Jacques (Barlowe Borland) - the father of the young boy who was run over by the Marquis' coach; he left a note: "Drive him fast to his tomb - This from Jacques"
  • in a quiet moment between Carton and Lucie, Carton admitted how she had inspired in him steadfast devotion and unrequited love for her: "I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you. Will you hold me in your mind as being ardent and sincere in this one thing? Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you?"; he was heartbroken about a romance that could have been between them
  • at the time of revolutionary fervor in France in 1789, the enraged peasants were eager to revolt against the aristocracy; they attacked a gated mansion where a servant was heartlessly feeding slabs of meat to dogs; a montage of images were accompanied by superimposed text - "Why?" - before the epic scene of the storming of the Bastille; the peasants were able to destroy the moat and enter, but were pushed back - until a contingent of French troops arrived to fire at the Bastille and join them in revolution: "Unheralded, unexpected Frenchmen in uniform joined Frenchmen in rags...and Rebellion turned to Revolution" - and The Bastille surrendered; "Hatred and Bloodlust" were the result of mob rule, as nobles fled or died
Epic Sequence: The Storming of the Bastille
  • Darnay returned to Paris to save his old tutor Gabelle (H.B. Warner) (who was associated with the Marquis) from execution by guillotine; Darnay had actually been tricked to return - and was immediately arrested, imprisoned by revolutionaries in Paris, and brought before a 'kangaroo court'
  • the unforgettable image of the evil and vengeful Mme. Defarge who knitted as Darnay (and other victims) were unjustly condemned; she delivered an impassioned speech against the aristocracy during Darnay's trial, and Darnay was found guilty for essentially being the last surviving Evremonde ("I demand the life of the last of the Evremondes! I demand it!") - he was sentenced, as an "enemy of the Republic," to be executed by guillotine "within 48 hours"

Head Judge of 'Kangaroo Court'

Darnay's Trial - Charged With Being an "Enemy of the Republic"

Madame Defarge Knitting During Darnay's 'Trial'

Madame Defarge's Speech Against Darnay
Darnay's Trial and Sentencing
  • to protect Lucie, Carton arranged for her to leave Paris and then visited Darnay in the Bastille to allegedly interview him, but in fact to prove his love for Lucie; Carton dictated a letter for Darnay to write to Lucie: ("I said that if ever I could do anything for you...") before chloroforming him; he added in his own handwriting: ("In the long night that is approaching, I shall be guided by the memory of your kindness. God bless you for your sweet compassion. Sydney Carton"); and then because of their physical resemblance, he switched clothes and places with him, in order to save him from the guillotine
  • Madame Defarge went to seek further retribution against Lucie in her apartment, although she was impeded by Lucie's servant and companion Miss Pross (Edna May Oliver) who chastised the Madame: ("You evil woman. You've killed many innocent people. No doubt you'll kill many more; but my ladybird you shall never touch") - in the ensuing struggle when a gun was pulled out, Madame Defarge was shot and killed; shortly later, Darnay joined Lucie and was able to escape back to England
  • in one of the final scenes while in a holding cell, Sydney Carton expressed how he was courageous and unafraid to another innocent victim, a seamstress (Isabel Jewell); she wondered about his motive to save his "friend" and thus gained strength from him: "You're going to die in his place. Why?...You're so brave. When we go to the guillotine, will you let me hold your hand? That might give me courage, too"; he responded: "Yes, I'll hold it to the last"
  • when a loud jolt came from the guillotine as a head was chopped off, a peasant woman nearby complained and snarled that she had dropped a stitch: "I dropped a stitch. Cursed aristocrats!"
  • as the Seamstress and Carton stood at the foot of the guillotine, he stressed to her: "Keep your eyes on me. Mind nothing else"; she responded: "I can bear it as long as I'm with you. But when I go, will they be quick?"; he told her: "It will be"; then she noticed how calm he was: "You're not afraid. The others are only pretending, but you - It's almost as if you welcomed it"; he affirmed his brave self-sacrifice (and redemption by love): "Perhaps I do. Perhaps in death, I receive something I never had in life. I hold a sanctuary in the hearts of those I care for"; he kissed her as her number (# 22) was called and she was led away - he was unable to hold her hand
  • when he ascended the scaffold during a drum-roll as his number (#23) was called, Carton nobly delivered his last words after the camera rose up and panoramically viewed the sky and heavens above: ("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..."); the final superimposed title card was a Biblical quote: "I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live"

Carton Led Up the Steps to His Fate

(off-screen): "It's a far, far better thing..."

Camera Rising Up Above Guillotine to View the Heavens

Opening Title Card

Lucie and Darnay Meeting on Their Way to England

Banker Barsad Tricked Into Admitting to Carton that Darnay was Framed

Darnay Revealing Himself in Court to Barsad

Carton's Love For Lucie - Although She Announced that She Was Marrying Darnay

Marquis Stabbed to Death During Sleep By Vengeful Peasant Jacques

Carton's Expression of His Steadfast Devotion For Lucie

Montage - Peasants On the Verge of Uprising

Carton's Dictated Letter to Lucie (in Darnay's Handwriting)

Carton's Addition to the Letter (in His Handwriting)

Madame Defarge Shot and Killed in Struggle with Miss Pross

Awaiting Execution, A Distressed Seamstress Spoke to Carton About His Bravery

Riding In an Open Cart - to the Guillotine

Madame Defarge's Companion - a Peasant Woman: "I dropped a stitch"

Sydney Carton with Seamstress at Foot of Guillotine - Goodbye Kiss

Final Title Card - Superimposed on Heavens


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