Here’s a big, brave and beautiful picture. It’s pretty certain and solid road show material. It’ll call forth all the adjectives the critical boys in the dailies can think up. It’ll bring Fox and Frank Lloyd all sorts of eulogies and artistic praise. And once in the first run houses in the keys it should be a box office cinch. With all around credit necessarily going to W.R. Sheehan, the Fox producing chief. This is the first big film out of the Fox studio since Sheehan’s return there and this is a big picture from and on every angle.
It is one instance where foreign distribution can be really taken into consideration. Pretty certain it will be one of the all-time biggest grossers everywhere in the British possessions, which is a mighty big market. And it’ll do well in about every other part of the world, where dubbing or titling won’t restrict it too much.
“Cavalcade” is about as well made as that subject could have been made for the screen. At first thought it would seem too foreign a matter for American consumption, but it’s the first big historical epic on England that means something over here. It’s so powerful and embracing that the matter of nationality and background is lost, or forgotten.
Noel Coward concocted the original stage pageant the film was made from. In that London production it was all Coward. In the filmization Coward, despite it’s his own, steps somewhat into the background. It’s the way in which the thing was put on celluloid that counts.
Very good performances by almost the entire cast. Especially is the acting job turned in by Diana Wynyard impressive. But above everything recurs the unison and tenseness created by Sheehan as producer, and Frank Lloyd as director. What they managed to accomplish is to stick, almost painfully to exactitude and detail, and yet take the subject away from its natural isolation, giving it an international aroma rather than a British one.
Which was plenty accomplishment when the subject matter is considered. Coward’s pageant begins at the birth of the 20th century and the beginning of the Boer war. From that it swells along on through three decades, up and through the World war, and to today. Nothing of world importance is lost sight of, including the sinking of the “Titanic.” And through it all is a strong, wistful story of the growth of a family, and the clinging through years of a loving couple.
The first couple of reels, from an American standpoint, at least, seem slow. It’s just a bit too hard to get into the British spirit of the thing, probably due almost entirely to the fact that the Boer war is reaching back pretty far in American memories. That build-up, plus the establishment of Jane and Robert Marryot as the family who are to be watched through 30 years, is a bit slow of development. The first thrill comes at the sailing of the troop ship for Africa, that due to excellent manipulation of a big mob. The parade aboard, the blaring bands and the thousands of well wishers on the piers are faithfully and excellently staged.
Then, a half reel of so later, an interior of a London music hall, another big scene as the antiquated show is reproduced and then broken up by the audience and actors going wild with enthusiasm at the announcement the war is over. It’s the second big scene in the picture, the biggest scene in the original London play, and so well done in the film that from that point on the audience is completely won.
The passing of Queen Victoria is also well staged but not quite as effectively, and the sinking of the “Titanic” is glossed over. It’s here, by the way, that that first of the Marryot sons is drowned. They by slow – though not too slow – stages, on and through the World war and the death of the other son, meaning the reduction of the family to just Jane and Robert, now beginning to grow old. On to the present jazz era, the little daughter of the former Marryot maid sings “Twentieth Century Blues” in a café, their old friend Margaret Harris, wants to go to cocktail parties, there’s drinking and carousing on all sides, womenly men and mannish femmes may be seen, church pews are empty. New Year’s has come again, and the Marryots, as usual, see it come in with a toast. A toast for a “regained dignity” and hope in the future.
As mentioned Diana Wynyard as Jane Marryot is exceptional. She’s an English actress on the screen for the first time. Clive Brook opposite her is a polished and suave an actor as always. Practically all the other players are well chosen and handle their roles capably, most prominent mention probably going to Frank Lawton and Herbert Mundin. Nearly all are British, from over there or over here.
Una O’Connor, Irene Browne and Merle Tottenham play the same roles in the film as they did at the London Drury Lane stage.
William Cameron Menzies is credited with the war scenes which are very well done but might be cut down somewhat. He went heavily into montage and super-imposition for these scenes, but they nevertheless remind too much of past war films. Whoever – and there were probably several persons – went over the details of clothing and background deserves a bow. They were even careful enough to have the busses in London decorated with banners advertising “Chu Chin Chow.”
The picture is long enough to cut with ease for regular picture house showings.
1932/1933: Outstanding Production (Fox), Directing (Frank Lloyd), Art Direction (William S. Darling)
Nominations: Actress (Diana Wynyard)