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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
It is dated only for those who have no sense of history or cultural depth. It tells the story of England and western civilisation through the history of two families, the Marryots and Bridges. It is the same technique of intimate narrative history that was successfully used in "Roots" and other family-history sagas.
Noel Coward's highly successful London-set stage play "Cavalcade" was adapted for the big screen with a cry of "A love that suffered and rose triumphant above the crushing events of this modern age! The march of time measured by a mother's heart!" It tells of the struggle of civility against the brutalising effects of war (and in particular the Great War).
It tells the story of Britain's struggle against barbarism in the late 19th and 20th century, and of old fashioned virtues in a world that seemed determined to leave them all behind. The final "march of the heroes of history" is perhaps quasi melodramatic Wagnerian mysticism, but it tightens the stiff upper lip- and makes me (for one) proud of Britain's contribution to the modern world.
This film is totally British in its perspective and it is also very much in the anti-war spirit that pervaded movies between 1925 and 1935 as WWI came to be seen by nearly all its global participants as a pointless war and caused everyone to lose their taste for fighting another.
The British perspective that you have to realize is that the Marryotts are accustomed to being on top - both in the world as England had dominated the globe for centuries, and socially, as they were part of the aristocracy. That didn't mean that they were snobs - they were very friendly and compassionate with their servants. But the point is, they were accustomed to the relationship being their choice and under their control. Suddenly England appears to be on the decline on the world stage and the servants they were so kind to are coming up in the world on their own and don't need their permission to enter society. Downstairs is coming upstairs, like it or not.
Downstairs is personified in this film by the Bridges family, Marryot servants that eventually strike out on their own and into business. Eventually the daughter, Fanny, enters into a romance with the Marryot's younger son. When Mrs. Marryot learns the news she is not so shocked as she is resigned to the fact that this is another sign that her world is slipping away. As for Fanny Bridges, she seems to personify post-war decadence as she grows from a child to full womanhood in the roaring 20's. At one point in the film, as a child, she literally dances on the grave of a loved one. This is not a good sign of things to come.
If the movie has a major flaw it is that it goes rather slowly through the years 1900 through 1918 and flies through the last fifteen years. Through a well-done montage you get a taste for what British life was like during that time - in many cases it looks like it was going through the same growing pains as American society during that same period - but it's only a taste.
Overall I'd recommend it, but just realize that it is quite different in style from American films from that same year.
The film it seems to be most like to me is Giant. Just as the Edna Ferber based film is some 25 years of the second quarter of the last century as seen through the eyes of the Texas Benedict family, Cavalcade is a British social history through the Marryots, Robert and Jane played by Clive Brook and Diana Wynyard. Though the Benedicts have their problems, they don't go through near the tragedies that the Marryots do.
Cavalcade was presented on the London stage a few years earlier and it never made it to Broadway unlike most of Noel Coward's works. It was an expensive production with revolving kaleidoscope like sets that probably made American producers on Broadway shy away from it.
A lot of standard English Music Hall numbers were used instead of Coward writing an original score. He did contribute one number however, 20th Century Blues which was a whole commentary unto itself of the roaring twenties.
Although at that point in time our history in the USA certainly does connect with the United Kingdom's during World War I for the most part Cavalcade deals strictly with British subject matter. I'm afraid unless one is a fan of Noel Coward or is familiar with 20th Century British history, it's hard for today's audience to appreciate Cavalcade.
Cavalcade however was the Best Picture of 1933 and Frank Lloyd won for Best Director. He'd win another Oscar for Best Director on another, but far different British subject in Mutiny on the Bounty. Diana Wynyard was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to Katherine Hepburn for Morning Glory.
Two other good performances are Una O'Connor and Herbert Mundin as Mrs. and Mr. Bridges. They are the downstairs in service couple to the upstairs Marryots. Both play far different parts than what we normally see of them. Most film fans remember Herbert Mundin as the meek mess man from Mutiny on the Bounty and Much the Miller from The Adventures of Robin Hood where he's paired with Una O'Connor. He's quite different here.
Cavalcade is good, but terribly dated. Still it should be seen and evaluated as a commentary of how the British saw themselves at the beginning of the Great Depression.
The director is Frank Lloyd, himself an unfairly forgotten man of old Hollywood. Many will not understand why Lloyd one an Oscar for his work on Cavalcade, because he does not use any overt camera tricks, but the truth is Lloyd is too much of a master to need any tricks. Many of the claims of stiltedness probably stem from the fact that Lloyd uses a lot of long and often static takes, but there is still subtle and clever technique at work here. Take that first scene of Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook making their preparations for New Years Eve. A large chunk is done without a single edit, yet with a few simple panning manoeuvres Lloyd's camera is smoothly changing the focus and keeping things feeling fresh, at one point having Brook's face appear in the mirror, then following her over to the table where the two of them stand with a garland of flowers framing the lower edge of the shot. Another director might have used a dozen cuts in the same scene, but Lloyd does it with just one or two. And the great thing is you don't notice. Often he will shift our attention from one place to another, but do it by having the camera follow a walking character to disguise the movement, such as the father carrying off a crying child on the beach. In spite of this unostentatious approach, the style is purely cinematic.
To be fair however, most of the accusations of theatricality fall upon the cast. I would however describe the performances here as being stereotyped rather than grandiosely hammy. Diana Wynyard was the only Oscar nominee for acting, although she does little here but emote rather wetly. In her favour she does put a lot of expression into her small gestures, and as the picture progresses she ages her character convincingly. More realistic turns however are given by Clive Brook and Irene Browne. The real surprise performance of the lot though is Herbert Mundin. In his many supporting roles Mundin typically played a bumbling yet lovable comedy character, but here he is forceful, passionate and rather moving. Had such a thing existed in 1933, he could have been in line for a Best Supporting Actor award.
But, aside from all these qualities, why did Cavalcade of all things appeal to the Academy, which was not exactly cosmopolitan in those days? The answer may be that the mood of the picture was very apt for the times. This was of course the height of the depression, and despite appearances Cavalcade is a rather downbeat affair. The gung ho optimism of the Boer war is replaced by the bitter folly of the World War; characters disappear from the narrative, everyday life becomes increasingly impersonal, until the final scenes are almost despairing. And yet this is not some tale of personal tragedy. Crowds are a constant presence in Cavalcade, with Lloyd using them as a backdrop to a teary farewell, the bookends to a scene or even just a noise heard through a window. In Coward's play characters are killed off in significant events making them symbolic of the losses of a nation. This is a story of great suffering, but it is a story of collective suffering, and this makes it comparable to the most poignant and affecting pictures of depression-era Hollywood.
This is very much an anti-war film, with the World War One scenes very powerful and the sad loss of a mother portrayed vividly as a woman learns of the death of her son as the rest of the world celebrates the end of the war. You won't forget this image.
Sumptuously shot and beautifully directed, the film is best when it is visual as it does suffer some of the sound problems associated with early talkies - and some of the acting is a little melodramatic. Diana Wynard's performance alternates between magnificent and hammy constantly - suggesting she was a little uncertain how to act for the camera. And look out quickly for an early portrayal of a gay male couple (snuck in by Coward I suspect!).
But this film is astonishingly relevant to us as we move into a new century. Let's not repeat the mistakes of the last. Coward speaks to us strongly from the grave.
The importance of the film is how the post (WWI) war generation viewed themselves and the tragedies, personal and international that transformed their world. The two (2) most powerful being the brief Titanic sequence and the montage of WWI where young men in an unending stream march into a Dante's Inferno never to return from that circle of hell. How the confidence of the Victorian/Edwardian age was shattered and their Empires were swept away or Gone With The Wind.
Film has clearly had it's influence and the most pronounced was in the SUPERIOR Jean Marsh television series UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS. If you cannot feel empathy for the characters of CAVALCADE you will in this. Do yourself a favor and watch CAVALCADE first. Watching both might get some people to, dare I say it, even read a book about that time period and realize that the current time does not have a monopoly upon conflict and pain.
One final comment KING KONG should of WON.
If you enjoyed Cavalcade you might want to see the 1944 film, This Happy Breed. I think of the two as companion pieces.
Cavalcade looked took an Upstairs-Downstairs approach, showing families at either end of the economic and class scale, from 1900-1933. This Happy Breed focuses on the Gibbons, a middle-class family, beginning with the end of the Great War to the start of World War II. It was the second film directed by David Lean.
The movies common ancestor is Noel Coward. Both films adapted from plays written by him.
This is an upstairs-downstairs look at the effects of war, and war's effects on society as we see what happens to the Bridges family, the servants, and the Marryots, during the years 1899-1933 in Great Britain. Not in any way snobbish, the Marryots in fact have a very close relationship with their servants. But class is class, and the class system declines to the point where the daughter (Ursula Jeans) of Ellen and Alfred Bridges (O'Connor and Herbert Mundin) becomes involved with her childhood playmate, Joe Marryot (Frank Lawton), a sign that the world the Marryots knew is fading away. All three Marryot men are involved in the Boer War, and two fight in World War I, to the distress of Jane Marryot (Wynyard), who is the representative of the antiwar sentiment.
There are other world events that touch the family as well: the death of Queen Victoria, and the sinking of the Titanic.
The film is a bit on the slow side and spends more time on the early period than the later. Coward, however, with shots of men blinded in the Great War, young men being shot, etc., makes his point very well.
My big quibble with this film is that it goes for 34 years. At the beginning, the Marryots have young children. Even if the Mr. and Mrs. Marryot were 30 years old at the beginning of the film -- why at the end of the movie did they look and act 90? It was hilarious as they're probably in their sixties. It goes to show how the concept of age has really changed.
This film is okay but somehow not as involving or as good as David Lean's This Happy Breed which concerns a middle-class family post World War I to World War II - also written by Noel Coward. I think This Happy Breed has a better cast; some of the acting in Cavalcade is a little stiff. Still, there are some striking scenes.
But unfortunately, we're not reviewing King Kong today because it didn't win Best Picture. It wasn't even nominated. What won instead, unfortunately, was a film that made no attempt at all to take advantage of what film as a medium has to offer; Cavalcade. Yeah, they adapted one of the drollest of plays into a feature film, and people actually loved it.
What's the story? It's the life of an English couple from the New Years Eve of 1899 up until then-present day 1933 as they experience historical events include the Second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War I among many other things. And within the now-reasonably short running time of 110 minutes, then that means the film's going to be either exciting or rushed. This film is anything but exciting; it's dull as a rock. There is absolutely no soul in this picture at all.
And the picture is indeed rushed. These events are just glanced over for no good reason other than to show that they lived through them, and they never seem to show how much they impacted them or the world around them. There's nothing interesting about these characters or this story whatsoever. And what's worse is that these events don't seem to impact the viewer in any way because those scenes are executed in a manner identical to those of a play; you never see these events happen. Come, on! We already had 2 War films win Best Picture in the past; where's the budget? Where are the calamities? For a sentimental film, this film sure does feel devoid of any real emotions.
And that's why I call this film dull and soulless; there's no logic or reason, no critical thinking, not even pure sentimental hogwash. At least all the previous nominees had a semblance of a soul; this film doesn't. This film is completely static and unmoving to say the least. The acting is boring, the characters are boring, and the story is boring. There is nothing positive to say outside of the fact that the premise had promise. More extravagance (to help these events leave a bigger impact), about 20 or 30 more minutes added to the running time, and more interesting characters. That is all that is needed to make this film any good. So while the film is pretty bad, it is salvageable. I would just skip it if I were you. 2.5 out of 10 rounded up to 3 out of 10.
That author was Noel Coward. Coward was great in some of his movie appearances, which ranged from the heroic ("In This We Serve") through the comic ("Our Man in Havana") to the somewhat bizarre and slightly menacing ("Bunny Lake Is Missing"). I quite like the guy.
Yet this story seems pointless to me in many ways. A lot of these epic movies about subsequent generations and their adaptation to social change do. I know Noel Coward's work is esteemed, and I know we should all keep a stiff upper lip and hope for the best, but as one New Year celebration follows another, the message gets tiresome. Really, I was saddened by some of the turns taken by events, but didn't much give a damn what happened to any of the characters, all of whom struck me as animated messages rather than living people.
What tragedy. Let me see. In the beginning there is the Boer War. The death of the Old Queen. Then two characters from the household discover they love one another -- on the Titanic. Then there is World War I. That's followed by the Jazz Age with all its threats, and what noisome threats to social stability they are -- drinking is flagrantly shown on the screen, along with homosexuality (that's a laugh, coming from Noel Coward), the threat of yet another war, art moderne, smoking cigarettes (well, we've gotten rid of that filthy nuisance), blues singers, and long fluffy feathers.
At the end, the original father and the original mother, now old and a little bent, toast each other delicately. They turn and look solemnly into the camera and the mother pronounces a long toast to both the past and the future while the viewer pendiculates. Then, arm in arm, the stroll to the balcony and smile at the New Year celebration in the streets below.
I suppose this sort of thing appeals to a good many people. There seems no avoiding these stories. If there IS a way of slipping past them, would someone let me know?
This is simply, the worst film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar. It is incredibly boring and primitively made. It is the epitome of the type of film that gives the early talkies such a bad name. The film should have been called "Calcified" rather than "Calvacade." The photography stinks, the acting is wooden, and the story is so hackneyed that it would cause even the most devoted "Masterpiece Theater" fan to contemplate suicide.
What is it about boring, stilted English films about the upper middle class or the aristocracy that gives Hollywood hot rocks? Anthony Holden, in his book "Behind the Oscar" (1993) quotes one wag as saying "If there is anything that moves the ordinary American to uncontrollable tears, it is the plight -- the constant plight -- of dear old England." This is just rubbish, and badly made rubbish at that! One out of ten stars.
Between the make-up and the marvelous acting, several characters age before our eyes. Several others don't because -- and this is not a spoiler, I hope -- Death intervenes.
In some ways, this Noel Coward creation reminded me of "Downton Abbey," with its story of Britain and the societal changes brought about by World War I.
"Cavalcade" is somewhat spoiled by an over- and bad use of montages, hokey under the best of circumstances, but not even well done here. And that's a shame considering the otherwise excellent production values.
Una O'Connor gets one of her best parts and gives one of her very best performances. She was such a good actress and was too often relegated to minor maid or servant roles.
Perhaps only the lovely Bonita Granville is known, or widely known, to audiences today. She was very young here, but, at least to me, one of her most worshipful fans, she was instantly recognizable.
"Cavalcade" was available On Demand from FXM, and I recommend it for two reasons: 1) its message -- however unintended -- that we must break the chains that bind us to governments and politicians, and especially the warmongering politicians, and 2) the unsurpassed British acting.
The fact that the film is from 1933 is not important. Just look at Grand Hotel, Best Picture winner from 1932, to see that this era of film can produce greatness. It is not the technical problems associated with the era that kill the film. It is a lack of style or anything redeeming to make me care about the film.
Visually this film is breathtaking. Lloyd had a keen eye for composition and the visual grandeur of the film really helps with its epic scope and feel. I especially was impressed with the Zeppelin attack sequence and the WWI montage. I don't think I have seen the "meat grinder" of war portrayed like that before.
The acting is uniformly excellent. That really helps with the lacking of narrative drive. And I think the actors made their characters feel alive with minimum screen time. This is a weird film but there is one thing it is perfect at. It really captures the melancholy, nostalgia and bittersweet of New Year's Eve. For old time's sake , go see this!
"Cavalcade" begins with the outbreak of the Boer War, and takes its audience right up to the year of its release (1933), following a host of famous historical moments in between -- the sinking of the Titanic, WWI -- as experienced by a well-off English family and its servants. It ends on a rather bleak and uncertain note, with the blurring of class boundaries and the rise of mechanization -- and its possibilities for human destruction -- leaving the English couple at the film's center feeling anxious about the future. Like many of the films to be recognized by the Academy in the early years of sound, it's creakier and much less cinematic than any number of much better films in any given year that were completely or almost ignored, but Oscar has a long legacy of passing over the truly worthy for the mediocre, so it doesn't much surprise me that "Cavalcade" won the Best Picture Oscar over far better nominees like "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" and "42nd Street."
Frank Lloyd won the Best Director Oscar for the second time for his efforts on this film, and the many sets needed to give the film its historical sweep won William Darling the award for Best Art Direction. Its only other nomination was for Diana Wynyard as the family matriarch, not a performance that was particularly deserving. She performs the role as if she's on stage, understandable given that the material originated as a play, but still...plenty of other actresses at the time (Barbara Stanwyck, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow) knew how to give performances on film that were unique to the medium.