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A Tale Of Two Cities (Blu-ray Review)

A Tale of Two Cities is one of those great classic novels that has been adapted by film and television almost as long as they’ve been around. One of the earliest adaptations is the 1935 version from legendary producer David O. Selznick. I believe its the first “talkie” production of the film. Warner Archive Collection has chosen it to be one of their titles for their February slate. They’ve been going very classic in the past few months and A Tale of Two Cities more than fits the bill. The Blu-ray will come with a full audio drama/radio play adaptation as well as some classic MGM cartoons and a PSA video about 3-D. The film will make its debut on February 9th. You can pre-order the film using the paid Amazon Associates link following the review.

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Film

This adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens finds courageous British lawyer Sydney Carton (Ronald Colman) defending French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Donald Woods) from false accusations of treason against England. Carton also becomes enamored of Darnay’s beautiful bride-to-be, Lucie (Elizabeth Allan), but she and Darnay marry and begin to raise a family in France. Then, when Darnay falls into the hands of French revolutionaries, Carton once again comes to his rescue.

As I watched A Tale of Two Cities, I wondered how much this classic is so much a “classic” to our current scholastic generation and the ones just before it. As a kid born in the 1980s, we all knew the title and generally what it was about. We all knew that damn ending. That was the big thing about it. And the book the film is based on would always come up when learning the French Revolution. I feel like this one isn’t a staple of the public consciousness as it once was. And that’s fine, its just fascinating how long this one lasted for, only to eventually fade a bit into the background.

The 1935 adaptation of it looks and feels quite grand for its day. There was some impressive court sets, houses, towns and more that all obviously were done in studio or on the lot. This feels “big” for 1935. A period costume drama to boot as well. But it also had a very claustrophobic sense as these big sets also felt somewhat cramped and that they were getting the most out of smaller space and the lens was helping make it a bit grander. Nonetheless, its a pretty impressive production, with great ambition to tell a tale it may not have had the money (or space) for.

I’m not sure if this one is THE adaptation of the film. And I can’t remember the book, but it feels like they shorthand what could have been some more interesting material. With what’s given, its quite entertaining and gets the thematic information and feeling of what’s important across. And the ending hits as it should. Maybe one day we could do A Tale of Two Cities cinematic universe retrospective and go over them all. Then again, maybe not. The 1935 adaptation, though, is definitely a worth one to take look back on and revisit.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: A Tale of Two Cities arrives on Blu-ray for the first time with a brand new master. I’m guessing that’s a 2K scan at best. And it looks pretty great. I wouldn’t say its got that fresh, new look to it, but it does make it feel surprising to be a film made in 1935 with how good the restoration work is. Details are solid with a nice, crisp image that keeps its grain structure intact. All in all, this is a very good look that those interested will appreciate.

Depth:  Some nice spacing throughout, though this isn’t a rather big, open film. Actors and backgrounds has good distancing and spacial separation. Movements are filmic, smooth and have no issues with distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep, heavier grained in darker areas. It provides a nice shadow and shading on the image. Not a lot of information is swallowed by it, still revealing textures and patterns. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are a white and grey mixture consistent from start to finish. Close ups typically provide the best and most detailed information of facial textures and features.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: A Tale of Two Cities comes with a nicely restored but a little aged sound. It has a bit of an analog hiss as a base for its tracking which features a decent balance of effects, vocals and score. All in all, the track is a complimentary “feel” to the film’s image and era with which it is from.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear, with a bit of a his behind them and plenty audible throughout.

Extras

A Tale of Two Cities is a 1-BD disc release.

A Tale of Two Cities 1942 Lux Radio Theatre Braodcast (HD, 58:30) – Narrated by Cecile B. DeMille, this radio dram version includes some of the cast members from the movie.

Hey-Hey Fever (SD, 8:25) – A Happy Harmonies cartoon.

Honeyland (SD, 10:07) – Another Happy Harmonies cartoon.

Audioscopiks (SD, 8:14) – A little informative short about 3-D film technology.

Re-issue Trailer (HD, 1:17)

Summary

A Tale of Two Cities is a very classic, nice adaptation that feels quite grand and epic for the 1930s prior to the end of the decade when stuff really starts taking off. Warner Archive has put together a nifty little Blu-ray here that has them showings some effort in doing what they can with such an old film and bonus material. And the transfer is pretty nice as well. Definitely a classic fans and collectors may want to consider grabbing to have in the collection.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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