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Cavalcade Movie Review

Director: Frank Lloyd

Starring: Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, Una O'Connor, Herbert Mundin, Beryl Mercer, Irene Browne, Tempe Pigott, Merle Tottenham, Frank Lawton, Ursula Jeans, Margaret Lindsay, John Warburton, Billy Bevan, Ronnie James, Dick Henderson, Jr., Douglas Scott, Sheila MacGill, Bonita Granville

Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction, Best Director, Best Picture

Other Nominations: Best Actress (Diana Wynyard)

Time changes many things. That is the lesson at the heart of 1934’s Best Picture winner, Cavalcade. From New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Eve 1933, we follow two families, the rich Marryots and their employees, the Bridges, through the hardships and historical events that shaped the early 20th century.

With high-brow language and pristine period costumes, this movie is almost too British for its own good. With a cast made up of veteran thespians, Cavalcade is so overly dramatic that it almost feels like a farce. Characters ‘play to the rafters’, as if addressing an audience. Their monologues are almost Shakespearean in length and context. Every emotion is so overdone that it’s almost comical and detaches us completely from these characters. But, I can forgive all of that. My biggest issue with Cavalcade was that it played it safe.

The movie starts with Robert Marryot and Alfred Bridges going off to fight in the Boer War. This battle was essentially a war of imperialism for British control over South Africa. Nearly 27,000 Boer women and children were killed in concentration camps and near 47,000 civilians lost their lives. Naturally none of this comes up in Cavalcade. We barely even get a fight scene. Robert and Alfred return home better off than when they left, with Robert now knighted and Alfred owning and operating his own pub that he somehow bought from a fellow soldier.

Meanwhile, wives Jane Marryot and Ellen Bridges sit at home awaiting their husband’s return. They’re fraught with fear, wondering if every telegram that passes through that house bears the news they can’t stand to hear. Women flock in droves to read “Casualty Listings”, praying that they don’t see the names of their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, friends. Jane tries to maintain a social life with her girlfriends while also trying to shoulder the guilt she feels enjoying a night on the town while her husband is away fighting. THIS IS THE STORY TO TELL, GUYS. But all of this is glossed over in quick montages. These were the moments we needed to identify and sympathize with these characters, yet they were downplayed enough to be almost forgettable.

The movie carries on in this way, setting up one exposition after another, yet never delivering on them. For example, Edward – the eldest son of Jane and Robert – dies on his honeymoon aboard the RMS Titanic. We see the honeymooners on the boat, we listen to them talk about how happy they are, "Nearer, My God, to Thee" even plays in the freaking background forecasting their fate, yet there is absolutely no mention of Edward’s death until 5 years later, when Robert jokes with his younger son Joey about how Edward would have been proud to serve his country in World War I had he not drown at sea. This is what I mean. We know the Titanic sank…but how a family copes with the loss of a son – that’s the story Cavalcade should have told.

All in all, Cavalcade took home three Oscars in 1934 – Best Picture, Best Director and Best Art Directing. As a period piece, this movie certainly delivers. It’s a little time capsule of life in the early 1900s, but as a cohesive film, Cavalcade falls short, for it often ignored the very thing it worked so hard to sell – family life.


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