|Index||5 reviews in total|
While it is impossible to do justice to Dickens' sprawling novel in 20
minutes, Vitagraph makes a stab at it with this series of scenes in
little more than tableaux format. Good costumes, good backgrounds and
excellent actors do their best, but stick with the 1935 version
directed by Jack Conway.
While this would seem to be, from the cast list, an all-star version -- including a very young Mabel Normand -- you should realize Vitagraph worked its actors hard -- starring in one picture, helping to fill out a crowd scene in the next. Still, you might want to play "spot the star" with this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is really a surprisingly good production by the Vitagraph to bring the Charles Dickens 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities to life on film for early movie goers. A very impressive cast of film performers from the early silent era that includes John Bunny, Maurice Costello, Florence Turner, Norma Talmadge, Anitia Stewart, Lillian Walker and a very young Mabel Normand all performing finely in period costumes. The story is told with a rapid succession of scenes that are amazingly well paced and the authentic looking back-grounds along with the many extra players, all helps to provide the appropriate atmosphere. Very historically interesting and entertaining, this 1911 film is great for silent film enthusiasts who appreciate the art of early silent cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film originally ran about 36 minutes. I say "about" because in 1911, the actual running time of the movie's original three reels in cinemas depended upon the speed of the projectionist and most projectionists took it upon themselves to crank slowly through the scenes they liked and speed up the less interesting passages. The demands of the theatre's orchestra or pianist also had to be considered along with the cinema's manager or proprietor who wanted to squeeze in as many screenings per day as possible. When the 16mm rights were acquired by Kodak, it was mercilessly condensed to two spools running a total of 21 or 22 minutes. However, this Kodascope cutdown did retain all the movie's original tints, and it's certainly a treat to see all these colored tints preserved on the Grapevine DVD disc, even though the scenes now flash by at such a speed, it would be hard for a party of Martians who were unfamiliar with Dickens to follow the plot. We can all do that okay, but the scenes flash by so fast, it's hard to appreciate all the good work of actors like Maurice Costello's Carton, Florence Turner's Lucie Manette and William Shea's Jarvis Lorry, let alone Norma Talmadge's girl on the tumbrel. This tinted Kodascope cutdown is now available on an excellent Grapevine DVD, on the same disc as the 1917 version.
This very early film version of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" is
pretty bad considering they only took 21 minutes to tell the story,
though you have to put it in context. For 1911, this is actually a
full-length story and no one yet made 90-120 minute films. Versions of
other stories such as "Frankenstein" were likewise extremely short and
confusing--and best watched by folks who already knew the stories.
Additionally, seeing obviously painted backgrounds was the norm for the
day and all the nice costumes and attempts to make it look good
actually would indicate that this was a prestige film...with a higher
than usual budget! So, don't be too quick to dismiss this
picture...it's really not that bad considering.
If you want to see the film, it's currently on YouTube and would best be watched on your small computer screen and not on a television using a BlueRay player because in the latter case, the film is very blurry and the intertitle cards are hard to read.
The first of a series of three reels adequately reproducing Dickens'
favorite story. It is unnecessary to go over the story. Probably most
who will see the picture know its main features at least. The first
reel takes the audience up to seizure of the peasant girl and the
killing of her brother, her death, the visit to Dr. Manette to be a
party to the crime, which results in his arrest and imprisonment in the
Bastille and the consequent sufferings in a dungeon. The story is
complete in itself, but the other two reels which go with it complete
the story as Dickens wrote it. Probably most readers have formed some
conception of the appearance of the different characters. In this
picture they undoubtedly have an adequate reproduction of the story,
with the principal personages faithfully depicted. The staging is
little short of sumptuous. There is shown a care in the attention to
details which stamps the picture as an unusually faithful reproduction
and affords opportunity for those who have read and loved Dickens in
the books to see his story move before them, much, perhaps, as it moved
before him during its composition. Without being an expert upon
Dickens, it seems safe to say that this production of one of his most
famous stories will go down in motion picture history as one of the
most notable of photoplay productions of the beginning of the year. -
The Moving Picture World, March 4, 1911
The second part of the three reel release of this great story. This film introduces Lucy, Sidney Carton, the hero of the tale, De Farge and Darnay. The scene changes from the turbulence of Paris to the quiet, homelike attractions of London. The complications which beset these characters are faithfully reproduced. Of course, it must be understood that it is impossible to reproduce everything that is described in the book, but the selections have been made with care, and are indicative of a thorough understanding of the necessities of the story. The main features are sufficiently emphasized to serve as a guide in carrying the audience along, and their knowledge of the story itself will supply any deficiencies. Toward the last there are rumblings from Paris, with its unrest and turbulence, but the main feature of the picture is the quiet of the homes of London and the development of a portion of the love story which is included. It seems safe to say that those who see this film, in conjunction with the one which was released before, and the one to follow, will acquire a new impression of Dickens and will appreciate more fully than ever before the importance of the motion picture as showing the beauties of a good story. Managers will do well if they use these films together, though each one tells a story by itself, which has its interest. - The Moving Picture World, March 11, 1911
The third and closing film in this series of remarkable reproductions. This picture takes the audience to Paris and shows them the mob at work destroying property and murdering Royalists and all suspected of being in sympathy with them. The story is followed closely in the main, the principal scenes being shown in strong contrast to the quiet, homelike scenes of the former film. It is here that Carton displays the act of heroism which will forever make him one of the greatest characters in fiction, the sacrifice of his life to save Darnay, who has been arrested and imprisoned because he is a relative of a Royalist, and will ultimately suffer upon the guillotine. The scene when the condemned prisoners are going to the guillotine in the tumbrel cart, and Carton comforts the poor little seamstress condemned to die with him, is dramatic, and holds the attention so closely that the audience sits with tense nerves throughout the scene. But, after all, even though the turbulence of the murderous mob constitutes the theme of the picture, the closing scenes, where Carton dies for his friend lifts it above the ordinary level and makes it one of the greatest pictures of the month. The three should be shown in conjunction. In that way the story unfolds itself in consecutive order, and the connection is clearly perceived. The Vitagraph people have performed a notable achievement in presenting this story in such excellent form. It is a year when Dickens is being studied and considered more than for a long time, and such a contribution as this is a help, not alone to students of Dickens, but to the thousands who have, for one reason or another, perhaps, lost sight of his marvelous faculty for storytelling. - The Moving Picture World, March 11, 1911
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