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CAVALCADE (director/producer: Frank Lloyd; screenwriter: from the play by Noel Coward/Reginald Berkeley; cinematographer: Ernest Palmer; editor: Margaret V. Clancy; music: Peter Brunelli; cast: Diana Wynyard (Jane Marryot), Clive Brook (Robert Marryot), Ellen Bridges (Ellen Bridges), Herbert Mundin (Alfred Bridges), Beryl Mercer (Cook), Irene Browne (Margaret Harris), John Warburton (Edward Marryot), Frank Lawton (Joe Marryot), Margaret Lindsay (Edith Harris), Ursula Jeans (Fanny Bridges), Merle Tottenham (Annie); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Winfield R. Sheehan; 20th Century Fox; 1933)
A creaky tearjerker filled with shrill messages about patriotism and anti-war feelings…

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Cavalvade” is a soap opera melodrama about an ordinary upper-class London family and its servants, and how war and other world events altered their lives. This turn-of-the-century epic saga taking us up to 1933 is a creaky tearjerker filled with shrill messages about patriotism and anti-war feelings, and is bogged down with enough sentimentality to choke a procession of horses. The film was adapted from Noel Coward’s hit 1931 play and upon Coward’s insistence it strictly adheres to following the Drury Lane production. This makes for a rather stagy presentation and for some hammy performances. “Cavalcade” won the Oscar in 1933 for Best Picture and Frank Lloyd won for Best Director. This only shows that Hollywood’s questionable taste goes way back in time and followers of the Academy should take heart that the tradition of choosing schlock over quality continues into the present with Chicago. “Cavalcade” cost $1.25 million and brought in $5 million in box-office receipts, both impressive stats for 1933.

The film uses time marching on as a recurring motif for the inevitability of change, as “Cavalvade” begins on a note of war and ends in the middle of the Great Depression. In the opening scene the well-to-do Marryot’s celebrate 1900 with a gingerly kiss. Jane (Diana Wynyard) is worried that her husband Robert (Clive Brook) is going off to fight in South Africa in the Boer War, and in a hysterical tone rants about the foolishness of that mission. Robert has a stiff upper lip attitude, as he sees it as his duty to serve his country. The two young boys, Edward and Joey, are proud of dad and egg dad on to tell them heroic war stories. The servants of the Marryot’s celebrate New Year’s Eve downstairs in the kitchen. Alfred Bridges (Herbert Mundin) is the valet, who is fighting in the same army unit as his boss. Ellen Bridges (Una O’Connor), Alfred’s wife, is the maid. She worries about Alfred getting killed and leaving her alone with their baby girl Fanny. Everyone in the Marryot household is relieved when the war is short and the Brits win, and most importantly the two fathers have come home safely. Robert gets knighted because of his war duty. Alfred gets a loan from Robert and buys a pub, as his extended family move on and are no longer servants. And, the end of an era is marked when Queen Victoria dies.

The film follows both the servants and their masters by noting the triumphs and disappointments of both families, and it also notes how the world keeps changing and new inventions make life easier. In 1908 Alfred becomes an irresponsible drunk who shames his family and dies in a street accident. Edward (John Warburton) is attending Oxford and is courting Edith (Margaret Lindsay), the daughter of his mother’s best friend–Margaret (Irene Browne). By 1912 Edith and Edward are a happily married couple, but they drown aboard the Titanic. In 1914, Joey (Frank Lawton) joins the army to fight in WW1. Joey goes to a jazz club and meets Fanny Bridges (Ursula Jeans), who grew up to be a beautiful young lady and a successful nightclub jazz singer and dancer. But Joey doesn’t get a chance to marry her, as he’s killed on Armistice Day. In a 1933 celebration on New Year’s Eve the homebodies Robert and Jane have aged considerably and console each other about the loss of their sons. The couple still feels youthful as they close the film with the same cautious optimism they had when the film opened. Robert proposes a toast to “dignity, greatness, and peace for England again.”

The film’s anti-war sentiments were too generalized to have an impact. It was also hard not to think of how snobbish Robert and Jane were, even if they were pleasant sorts. Lloyd directs in a flat and uninteresting manner, as this film is a relic that should be of interest mostly from an historical perspective. It is interesting to note that the war footage was created by William Cameron Menzies (art director of GWTW). The film also had lots of familiar songs such as “Take Me Back to Yorkshire” and “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Fanny Bridges sang the rollicking jazz number “The 20th-Century Blues.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”