Sanguine Mirages, Cinematic Dreams: Things Seen and Things Imagined in the 1917 Fox Feature Film A Tale of Two Cities

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


In the June 1917 issue of the American movie fan magazine Photoplay, the reviewer of the Fox feature film A Tale of Two Cities declared that the film’s artistic qualities and impressive dimensions ‘came surprisingly as a shot from a dark doorway’.1 Knowledge of the film’s production stable (Fox), director (Scotsman Frank Lloyd) and cast (including the star William Farnum as both Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay) did not, that is, prepare its audiences for the visual appeal and emotional power of this particular film. The conjured image of the unanticipated eruption of deadly sniper fire from surprising quarters perfectly captures the impact the film makes on its spectators. In its performances, technical control, spectacular dimensions, eloquent editing and purposeful varying of perspectives, it is a film of ambitious reach and considerable subtlety. As an interpretive adaptation, moreover, it shows noteworthy courage in reading the novel against the sentimentalized grain of its interpretive moment.


Public Event French Revolution Double Exposure Silent Film Subjective Domain 
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  1. 18.
    Laura Mulvey, Death 24 x a Second (London: Reaktion, 2006), p. 164.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    On the body’s mutability in early cinema, see Judith Buchanan, ‘Celluloid formaldehyde? The body on film’, ch. 16 in C. Saunders, U. Maude and J. MacNaughton (eds), The Body and the Arts (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 260–76.Google Scholar
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    Garrett Stewart, Dear Reader: The Conscripted Audience in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction(Baltimore, MDand London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), p.227.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    See John Glavin, After Dickens: Reading, Adaptation and Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 144–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 24.
    The Real Thing at Last is discussed in detail in Judith Buchanan, Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), ch. 6.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    For a discussion of the various symbolic meanings of La Guillotine in 1790s France, see Regina Janes, Losing Our Heads: Beheadings in Literature and Culture (New York and London: New York University Press, 2005), ch. 3, pp. 67–96. Domestication is discussed briefly on p. 83.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Molly Smith, ‘The Theater and the Scaffold: Death as Spectacle in The Spanish Tragedy’, Studies in English Literature, 32 (1992), 217–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Judith Buchanan with Alex Newhouse 2009

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