Director: Frank Lloyd
Although I have not seen every best picture Oscar winner, I must honestly say that Cavalcade is the only winner whose title was unfamiliar to me. Interestingly, it is also the only film not available through the Carnegie Library system in DVD format; fortunately my VHS player is still viable. Unlike Grand Hotel with its “cavalcade” of Hollywood stars, Cavalcade does not have a single actor that I would consider famous. I do not want to imply that the quality of the acting is lacking because I did enjoy most of the performances. Based on a play written by Noel Coward, the dialogue clearly borders on the melodramatic.
This is our third film out of six where war plays a prominent role. Given that the film was produced in 1933 and that a vast majority of filmgoers would have experienced war’s trials and tribulations, I’m sure the subject matter had broad appeal. This film begins with the Boer War in 1899, progresses though World War I, and offers hope that another war may be averted (which we now know wasn’t to be). Along this journey tracing the lives of two British families of differing financial means, we experience the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, the extravagance of roaring 20’s, and the rise of philosophies encompassing socialism, communism, Sigmund Freud, and religious and anti-religious thought. A particularly well done scene in the film shows a couple on their honeymoon cruise discussing life, their future and musing what if tonight would be their last. As they retire to their quarters, the shocking image of a lifesaver with the inscription Titanic is visible in the frame.
Similar in feel to All Quiet on the Western Front, the film does not glorify war. The film however does evoke emotions in its contemplation of the meaning of life, the importance of living for the “now”, and the unpredictable nature of life’s journey. This film could not be considered a feel good movie as the brightness of the future is definitely in question. In fact, the beginning of the twentieth century seems to be a tumultuous time compared to the perception of the tranquility of the 1800’s. A comparison similar to today’s reminiscing of the quieter, gentler time of the 1950’s (at least as portrayed in television sitcoms).
Technically, I thought the sound was among the best we’ve heard thus far, particularly the emphasis on quality sound effects from artillery explosion to train station whistles. Not to mention the clarity of the sound of horse hoofs on cobblestone in a funeral procession. The aging of the characters was better than we saw in Cimarron and very believable. Musical numbers effectively change in style as we progress through different eras. Cavalcade will not be one of my favorite Oscar winners but was unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable (even in VHS).
The film, Cavalcade, shows a longitudinal history of two families in late 19th century to early 20th century England. In the course of this study, it is hard not to make comparison to the predecessors of this film that have also won the award for best picture. Cavalcade has unmistakable similarities to Cimarron in its method of depicting a family’s evolution through significant historical events. The tagline of the film, “Cavalcade – Picture of the Generation” creates an accurate portrayal of the events that had significantly influenced the lives of the upper-class London residents Jane (Diana Wynyard) and Robert Marryot (Clive Brook). Interestingly enough, Cavalcade was the first award to be won by an English production in comparison its American peer productions. The first event mentioned in the film, The Second Boer War, was a part of English history that I was not too familiar with. It was particularly interesting to see the juxtaposition of the Marryot children playing soldiers, as well as the ennui of the women on the home front, instead of portraying the violence of the war. Also, the scene transition from the cheerful men singing with interlocked arms as their families bid them farewell, to the main heroine checking the casualty list was particularly jarring.
Throughout the film they continue to utilize the motif of a cavalcade, defined as a procession or parade on horseback that often depicts historical events and follows a long trail. The film’s title fits that description perfectly, as 30 years of British history is depicted through the lens of the family. The film also superimposes the imagery of a processional of horses over scenes of action to symbolize the fact that time is progressing. While this film does occur during two wars, both The Second Boer War as well as WWI, it shows a side of war that previous films have not depicted as much, the home front. The hardship of the Marryot family is also portrayed through pivotal moments of the 1910’s including a certain family member’s trip on an ill-fated cruise in 1912 aboard the “unsinkable” Titanic. Through the eyes of the family, we are able to gather an accurate portrayal of the hardships and pains of the English public during this era. While looking at this posterity it is also hard to forget the fact that at the time when this film was created,Englandhad yet to experience its most trying test in the form of WWII which occurred just 6 years after the film was made.
One of the most interesting parts of the film was the montage sequence that portrayed the vice and the hedonism of the 1920’s. The sequence depicted Jazz-era flappers, a homosexual couple, the rise in atheism, and a complete reversal from the Victorian society portrayed in the first portion of the movie. These choices were particularly daring, and many of the depictions would not have been possible in Production Code eraHollywood, which would begin to censor films in 1934. The portrayal of homosexuality would never have passed censorship restrictions that would limit content for the next 25 or so years.
Overall, I found the film emotionally moving and a better representation of a longitudinal character study than the more fragmented Cimarron. It’s more innovative technological advances on such a large scale also showed the biggest improvement in film production since All Quiet on the Western Front. The lesson in English history also familiarized me with a segment of world history that I was not well acquainted with, and I was glad I had the chance to learn about it through an insider’s perspective provided by an English film production.