Huff, puff, another Norman Rosemont Classics Comics production of a venerable old literary warhorse: "A Tale of Two Cities," three hours of costumes and scenery and a wisp of drama for the CBS "Hallmark Hall of Fame," at 8 tonight on Channel 9.
Chris Sarandon plays the dual roles of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay in John Gay's dutiful and perfunctory adaptation of the novel set against the turbulence of the French Revolution and telling a story of courage and sacrifice. If it coaxes kids into picking up the book and reading it, the production will have served the only purpose feasible for it beyond filling one nigh of prime time and lavishly separating one clump of commercials from another.
A saving virtue, as with past expeditions of this sort, is the location filming, allowing the under-developed characters to trot by grandiose cathedrals and through picturesque hamlets. Sarandon is adequate to the two roles, though when done up as Carton he looks a bit like the Quaker Oats man. He stomps about saying things like "We shall see about that !" and other characters divest themselves of such laments as "What in God's name do we do now?"
Alice Krige makes an appealingly frail and winsome Lucie Mannette -- she does a balletic faint in the third hour -- and Peter Cushing is imposing as here embattled papa. Billie Whitelaw's Madame Defarge is a disappointment if only because Whitelaw has done her shrew act time after time already.
The engineers at WDVM-TV here managed to so badly botch a preview copy of the program that it ended abruptly just as Carton was marching toward Mme. La Guillotine and before he got to do the "far, far better thing" speech. The production had trod the middle road so well up to that point that there is little reason to believe the climax would send the appropriate chills up the appropriate places anyway.