Blanche Yurka: HOLY *BEEP!*


Every time she makes that bloodcurdling speech in front of the Tribunal I am spellbound. How could any remake ever hope to get anywhere near that performance!

I'm all right, I'm alllll right!

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Blanche is my favorite Mme Defarge of the four I've heard. She's so passionate!

"Always harping on that bloody old judge. We've got ourselves a nice respectable business!"

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She IS Madame Defarge. Have you ever read the book? I can't help but visualize her and hear her voice whenever she appears.

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No person ever could replicate her performance, she delivered one of the greatest female performances of all time. Blanche was Defarge; as another user said, every time I re-read the book, all I see is Blanche.

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Mindboggling that she wasn't nominated for an Oscar.

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Mindboggling that people would take that laughably dated, cheesy piece of overacting seriously.

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Actually, for a 1930's movie, it's an incredibly raw, even modern performance, not the slightest bit dated or cheesy. She does most of her acting with her eyes and keeps her anger contained. Only in the big tribunal speech does she really let loose (as the scene requires) and it's an absolutely stunning moment. Pauline Kael, who was rarely impressed by hammy, overwrought emotions, thought she pretty much carried the whole movie.

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Unfortunately, this was a time that Kael WAS impressed by hammy, overwrought emotions. It's ridiculous to claim Yurka's declamatory acting style is "raw, even modern." The only modern thing about it is its resemblance to Al Pacino at his most out of control. Her performance is overblown, obvious and calculated--not a believable moment in it.

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She's playing Madame DeFarge, you fool. In the big tribunal scene, she has about sixty seconds to whip the crowd into a frenzy or Charles Darney will be acquitted. What's she supposed to do, read the letter quietly? In none of the other scenes does she so much as raise her voice. All of the anger is in her eyes. This is like Al Pacino at his most out of control? You don't know what you're talking about.

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Lol! I have a degree in acting and directing. What are you credentials?

The only choice you see for an actress to convey anger is to overact like Yurka, or to read quietly? It's you who's no idea what he's talking about.

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Those degrees have obviously paid off big time. Congratulations on your illustrious career.

Meanwhile, it might be a good idea for you to go back and re-read "A Tale of Two Cities." Madame DeFarge is not a subtle character. The tribunal scene in particular demands larger than life emotions. It wouldn't work any other way.

In what other scenes besides the tribunal do you catch her "overacting"? The storming of the Bastille? The scenes in DeFarge's wine shop? And please describe what constitutes "overacting" in your view.

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Thanks on the compliments on my career! Sorry yours doesn't make you better disposed. But keep up the sarcasm if it makes you happy.

There's really no point in getting into a toe-to-toe with someone like you about acting--a troll who hurls insults without provocation...over Blanche Yurka, yet! But if you must have it explained: Yurka plays an attitude, not an objective. She plays "menace", vs. a character you believe as a human being off the screen. Some people are drawn to the performance because she has technique. You commented twice on her eyes, and she also knows how to use her voice. But the technique is obvious as just that, technique--like the tenor who holds the high C 30 seconds sheerly to impress. It's that lack of honesty, of realness, of true emotion that dates her performance. It's operatic, but it's not believable.

Devices that worked well 75 years ago still work on some now, and you're obviously one of them. If you love her melodramatic style and stentorian delivery, I wish you hours of viewing pleasure.

If you need to respond with more insults and snideness, you'll be vanishing into my ignore list--Poof!

Peace.

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[deleted]

I come from a show-business family and was a member of an expressionist theater group. Looking at it from that standpoint, Blanche's acting might be called "stagy", but certainly not unrealistic or hammy.

Hap--pppppppppppppppy New Year!

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So the performance you originally said left you "spellbound" you now say is stagey. OK.

"Stagey, but not unrealistic..." Hmmm. Ok.

Interesting that you can't speak to any of the points in my prior post. I guess your show business family and expressionist theatre group didn't teach you much.

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User Profile for DancesWithPork - Profile Updated Successfully
rrb added to your Ignore list

You're a troll, a big mouth and generally annoying. Bye.

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Thanks for sharing!

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rrb,

Let me start by saying that I respect your opinion, and that I think we can agree to disagree.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES is one of my favorite books, and I have enjoyed every movie version I have seen. This version, however, is my favorite.

Yurka does have an objective, a very strong one: revenge. Her father and brother-in-law were worked to death. Her sister was raped while pregnant, miscarried, and died of the complications. Her little brother was murdered trying to defend his sister's honor. She lost her whole family to the St. Evermondes. She wanted the St. Evermonde family destroyed -- Charles, Lucie, Dr. Manette, even little Lucie. That is what she must accomplish with the letter in front of the tribunal. Yes, she becomes loud and extremely animated, but can you say that you never saw anyone lose it in real life? I have seen people, through anger and panic, lose control. In this scene, is she over-acting, or is she losing control? I know there is a fine line there, and I'm not asking you to agree with me, just to take into consideration that sometimes in real life people lose control. She definitely lost control in the novel. The tribunal tried to silence her by ringing a bell (instead of a gavel) and she shouted at them, "I defy that bell!" (I think she does this in the movie, too.)

This may also have been a directorial choice and not Blanch Yurka's. By the end of her testimony, she has whipped the crowd of spectators into such a fury that they are screaming for Darney's death. You need to show some emotion if you are to incite a riot. Plus, at the end of this scene, both in the novel and the movie, Darney is condemned, the mob shouts approval and threats, and Madame Defarge says, "Save him now, Citizen Doctor, if you can." She doesn't say this to him; she says it almost to herself. Could director Jack Conroy have instructed Yurka to let loose in the reading of the letter, and then pull back for that final comment to show a difference? I'm not saying that this is what happened. I'm just throwing it out for consideration.

I, personally, like Blance Yurka's Madame Defarge. Is it perfect? No. Is it the best piece of acting? No. Does it fit the character's personality, hatred, anger, lust for revenge? In my opinion, for what little it's worth, Yes.

How do you feel about some of the other performances? When I was in college (and I was a theatre student), another acting student called Edna May Oliver's Miss Pross "Old Hollywood", and smirked when he said it. I was offended by that, because I thought her performance, though wild, was truthful. If you read the novel, Dickens meant Miss Pross to be eccentric, to be comic relief, and in every movie version I have seen, though the actresses interpretations have been different, they all have zeroed in on the eccentricity. As over-the-top as it may seem, Oliver's performance nailed the craziness, but at the same time, showed the love and devotion underneath. And it just occured to me: since Miss Pross and Madame Defarge are meant to be opposites and to meet in the final conflict, could Yurka have been trying to match Oliver in performance?

Sorry to have rambled on so, but I wanted to add something to the discussion besides insults.

Spin

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Excellent response, ljspin, bravo.

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How do you feel about some of the other performances? When I was in college (and I was a theatre student), another acting student called Edna May Oliver's Miss Pross "Old Hollywood", and smirked when he said it. I was offended by that, because I thought her performance, though wild, was truthful. If you read the novel, Dickens meant Miss Pross to be eccentric, to be comic relief, and in every movie version I have seen, though the actresses interpretations have been different, they all have zeroed in on the eccentricity. As over-the-top as it may seem, Oliver's performance nailed the craziness, but at the same time, showed the love and devotion underneath. And it just occured to me: since Miss Pross and Madame Defarge are meant to be opposites and to meet in the final conflict, could Yurka have been trying to match Oliver in performance?


Loved your whole post, Spin, especially the part I've just c/c/p'ed!

Do me a favor? Look up that old college chum of yours on Facebook or something and either send him a link to this thread or a *thumbed nose* from Your's Truly!

I defy him or anyone to demonstrate where "Modern Hollywood" is, in any way, shape or form, superior to the "Old Hollywood" that ellicited his "smirk."

Secret Message, HERE!-->CONGRATULATIONS!!! You've discovered the Secret Message!

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Lol! I have a degree in acting and directing. What are you credentials?

Going down on a couple of professors in exchange for a bachelor's degree does not make you Pauline Kael.

cinefreak

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Wow! That's how you got your degree?

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Wow! That's how you got your degree?

Who said anything about my degree?

cinefreak

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Lol! I have a degree in acting and directing. What are you credentials?

Link to your IMDB page please.

Yurka plays an attitude, not an objective. She plays "menace", vs. a character you believe as a human being off the screen.

Duly note that the source I used to put together the response below was directly culled and coalesced together from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale Of Two Cities.

Yurka delivers an attitude motivated by an objective which is made clear from the beginning to the end of the film, exploding during each and every courtroom sequence and the breaking of the wine cask frenzy and the death-by-carriage of the child episode and the storming of the Bastille quadrille, an objective that cosmically erupts during the reading of the letter.

Madame Defarge represents the Entirety of the impoverished, hungry, silent, subjugated, suffering, scarecrowed French masses unceasingly working.

She is the mutilated earthenware People, she is the wine cask that broke and shattered like a walnut-shell in the streets, causing the cadaverous masses to stream into every nook and cranny, hungrily scooping wineblood-soaked dirt and wineblood-rotted fragments of the cask into their mouths, sucking the wineblood dry. She ignites the terrifying dances of death, She is the past and the present and the future of Humankind if Humankind continues to treat itself in a dehumanizing manner.

She is the People, She represents all those who were ground down to the ground, She represents the young people ground old, She represents the child with the ancient face and grave voice, she represents the Hunger and She is the filthy streets and the bad bread and the watered-down wine.

She is the People with foreheads knitted into the likeness of gallows-ropes, She is the People worked unceasingly with watchful eyes and great composure of manner.

She is the silent and dreadful voice, the silent and famished creature, and similar to Dr. Manette, the silent captive of many years who sat silently, looking fixedly, knitting, knitting, knitting, waiting, waiting, waiting.

She is the sum total of the people, the prisoners, the wicked, the wretched, the haunted, the dead.

She is the echo of footsteps coming and going and coming and going and coming and going without end.

She is the miserable dead child and the raped women and the milkless dry breasts.

She is the sunset striking brilliantly into the travelling carriage, scorching and steeping the aristocracy into crimson.

She The People is the Woodman and the Farmer who work unceasingly and silently until the time comes to spill the blood..

She is the ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked rains, she is the boiling oil, the melted lead, the hot resin, the wax, the sulphour, she is the roaring and raging conflagration, she is the red-hot wind blowing everything edifice away, straight from the bowels of the earth.

She The People is the Hanged, the Jacques One and the Jacques Two and the Jacques Three, She is the Gorgon, She is the List, She is the Jury, She is Vengeance, She is La Guillotine.

She is the Bastille, She is Saint Antoine, She is the Procession and She is the Grindstone and She is the Carmagnole and she is the chained Devil (Dickens' terminology) straight from the bowels of the earth.

She says Nothing and does Everything without moving an inch.

That is the "attitude" Charles Dickens grafted, that is the Everyman Character he Farged from the guttural depths of Gaul's chthonian bloodsoaked soilsoul.

Madame DeFarge (neé Lady Macbeth? No not her, She sees no blood on her palms...) thinks and moves as silently as light from behind a cloud while coinstantaneously enraging the People to rage across France in four directions, obliterating all in sight without a thought.

She is an impenetrable sphinx who hypnotizes an entire civilization to bow down and execute her silent commands.

That letter reading was the most pivotal moment in the novel and film because it required Madame Defarge to not only once-and-for-all destroy Hope and Humanity and Regeneration and Resurrection, it required her to gain unbridled unconditional consent from the entire nation of France to do so. It required her to unify an entire nation behind one goal and one goal only: Merciless Ex Talionis [eye for an eye]: destroy the son and whoever else is in the path for the sins of the father.

Her moment demanded her to be operatic, melodramatic, and stentorian, and that style still works brilliantly today not only on stage, but also in film (and politics!) when utilized at the right moment or throughout an entire film: Sir Kenneth Branagh's Feast of St.Crispin's Day speech in Henry V, Jack Nicholson's "you can't handle the truth" response in A Few Good Men, Marlon Brando's "lend me your ears speech" in Julius Caesar, [little] Jodie Foster's rant against her lawyer in The Accused, Oprah Winfrey's magnificent declamatory delivery in The Color Purple, Christian Bale from beginning to end in Harsh Times, Harvey Keitel from beginning to end in Taking Sides, Ian McKellen in a staged performance of Macbeth (1979), James Dean's "Last Supper" banquet speech in Giant, Klaus Kinski from beginning to end in Aguirre, Der Zorn G-ttes, Leonardo Di Caprio from beginning to end in Revolutionary Road, Kate Winslet from beginning to end in Revolutionary Road, Marlon Brando begging for Jeanne during the finale of Ultimo Tango A Parigi, Ivan Dobronravov throughout Vozvrashcheniye, Anne Heche's courtroom appearance in Gracie's Choice, Al Pacino from beginning to end in 88 Minutes (in fact Pacino is famous for his operatic, melodramatic, stentorian performances, that style is his trademark), Jessica Lange as Cousin Bette, Michael Pitt as Paul in Funny Games U.S., Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood and In The Name Of The Father, as you can see a mixture of films from the 1950's to the present that were made after Blanche Yurka's "hammy" and "dated" performance.

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Well La De Da: "Lol! I have a degree in acting and directing. What are you credentials?"

Credentials? As if a movie viewer needs credentials to voice an opinion.

Blanch Yurkas performance was right on. How often was she on screen not
saying a word? The face, the hand movements, perfect. An Oscar nomination
performance if there ever was one.
Not even Colman, nor any of the other major actors, performed as well.

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[deleted]

Agreed that Blanch Yurka as Mme DeFarge was spellbinding and electrifying; totally disagree that "not even Colman...performed as well." Colman nailed Carton better than any subsequent actor playing the part in remakes. I cannot conceive of any alternate universe in which Ronald Colman is less than absolutely, pristinely perfect as Sidney Carton.

Perhaps it may be more accurate to say you think Yurka's character is more compelling than the character (Carton) in which Colman was cast?

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It's one of the reasons I watch and re-watch this version of A Tale....

Blanche Yurka was the actor/manager of her touring troupe of actors. An early protege was Bette Davis. To the end, Bette Davis referred to her as "Miss Yurka".

I remember that every time I see Ms. Yurka's scenery-chewing performance at Charles Darnay's trial. I also remember it when I see some of Ms. Davis' own scenery-chewing.

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I've watched nearly every movie ever broadcast on TCM. Put me down as a fan of Miss Yurka.

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There can't be any better. Leave well enough, or excellent enough, alone.

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[deleted]

The character of DeFarge was an over the top character. Sometimes a character demands that kind of performance. I'm reminded of Burt Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry" 1960. Lancaster did have a tendency to get hammy, but the character of Elmer Gantry was bigger than life, and was a hammy character.

On another point, I found the 47 year old Blanche Yurka attractive. Cleaned up a bit, she'd have been sexy, even at 47 years. I'd like to see how she looked at age 37 or 27.







Absurdity: A Statement or belief inconsistent with my opinion.

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Blanche Yurka's performance as Madame de Farge makes for one of the most wonderful villains of all time. She looks hard throughout as life has made her that way. Is she a villainess throughout? Definately not. Is she justified in her actions? To the people surrounding her at the guillotine she was. Is she justified in wanting death to the St. Everymondes? Perhaps if Darnay had been as evil as his predecessors for sure. Lucy is presented as soft, and she will obviously make sure that their daughter isn't like her paternal family. Obsessed with the sadness of what she has lost, DeFarge doesn't see it that way. Destiny has brought her to where she stands at the tribunal. Where she really becomes a villain is stepping out on her own to arrest Lucy and her daughter. The final shot of her is perfectly done to indicate retribution for everything she has done in the last ditch efforts to reach the goals that started off as well intended but pretty much took her into the depths of insanity.

I saw a TV version of this (Wendell Corey, argh....circa 1953) with Judith Evelyn as Madame DeFarge. Perfectly cast, as again, a theater veteran with skills to match, but unfortunately, badly made up to look strangely overdone with blush, mascara and simply too clean looking. An unfortunate decision by whoever was in charge there.

The only other actress I could see in this part during this time (either 1935 or 1953) would be Judith Anderson with Margaret Hamilton as Miss Pross. Imagine those two rolling around, fighting over a gun!

"Great theater makes you smile. Outstanding theater may make you weep."

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