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A cavalcade of English life from New Year's Eve 1899 until 1933 seen through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane and Robert Marryot. Amongst events touching their family are the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CAVALCADE is an extremely good example of films made in the first few years following the advent of sound, an era in which actors, directors, writers, and cinematographers struggled to find a new style that could comfortably accommodate the new technology. During this period, many actors and writers were drawn from the stage--only to discover that what seems real and natural in the theatre seems heavily mannered on screen.
This is certainly the case with CAVALCADE. The film presents the story of two London families whose lives intertwine between 1900 and 1933. The film begins with the upperclass Marryot family and their servants, Mr. and Mrs. Bridges, facing the Boer War--and then through a series of montages and montage-like scenes follows the fortunes of the two families as they confront changing codes of manners and social class and various historic events ranging from the sinking of the Titanic to World War I.
From a modern standpoint, the really big problem with the film is the script. CAVALCADE was written for the stage by Noel Coward, who was one of the great comic authors of the 20th Century stage--but the sparkling edge that seems so flawless in his comic works acquires a distastefully "precious" quality when applied to drama. Although the play was a great success in its day, it is seldom revived, and the dialogue of the film version leaves one in little doubt of why: it feels ridiculously artificial, and that quality is emphasized by the "grand manner" of the cast.
That said, the cast--in spite of the dialogue and their stylistically dated performances--is quite good. This is particularly true of the two leading ladies, Diana Wynyard and Una O'Connor (best known for her appearances in THE INVISIBLE MAN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKESTEIN), both of whom have memorable screen presences that linger in mind long after the film ends. The material is also quite interesting and startlingly modern; although it is more covert than such films as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, CAVALCADE has a decidedly anti-war slant, and the characters in the film worry about where technology (which has produced such horrors as chemical warfare by World War I) will take them in the future.
I enjoyed the film. At the same time, I would be very hesitant to recommend it to any one that was not already interested in films of the early 1930s, for I think most contemporary viewers would have great difficulty adjusting to the tremendous difference in style. The VHS (the film is not yet available on DVD) has some problem with visual elements and a more significant problem with audio elements, but these are not consistent issues. Recommended--but with the warning that if you don't already like pre-code early "talkies" you will likely be disappointed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
25 of 27 people found this review helpful.
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