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Cavalcade

As we march even onward, our journey takes us back to the early days of Oscar, specifically 1933 with Cavalcade. Don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either.

The movie follows the fortunes of two families, the upper class Marryots and their lower class servants, the Bridges. On New Years Day 1900, both Mr. Marryot and Mr. Bridges head off to fight in the Boer War. During the war, another soldier sells Bridges a bar in London, so when he returns, he moves his family away from the life of service and into a life in the service industry. We then jump ahead to 1908, where Bridges is drinking away all his profits. After a confrontation with his wife, he runs into the street and is run over by a fire truck. Two years later the two families run into each other at the beach. Mrs. Bridges’ young daughter Fanny has just won a dance competition while the Marryot’s eldest son is flirting rather hard-core with the daughter of a family friend. Those two crazy kids get married a couple years later and take a honeymoon cruise aboard the Titanic. Another two years later and it’s time for another war. This time the Marryot’s youngest son is marching off, alongside his father, away from his disapproving mother. While on leave he walks into a nightclub with a couple buddies and runs into Fanny, performing as a featured dancer. He sneaks into her dressing room, and instead of being brought up on charges like most people, he strikes up a conversation with her and the two really hit it off. As the war progresses, so does their relationship, until there is talk of marriage along with the talk of armistice. Mrs. Bridges won’t hear of it and marches off to Mrs. Marryot to voice her disapproval, but as the guns are sounding to announce the end of the war, a telegram arrives to inform Mrs. Marryot that her son has been killed in action.

Now there are quite a few good things to like about this. The acting is pretty solid throughout, even though no one here made much of a name for themselves. A then-unknown Betty Grable plays "girl on couch," a role I don’t even remember and I just saw the damn thing. Diana Wynyard stars as Mrs. Marryot and is one of the best things about this movie, but it seems at times she falls back on her theatrical training, like when she faces the audience instead of the person she’s talking to. It seems her director forgot to tell her that in movies the camera can move, so actors can pretend they’re having actual conversations, but then it also seems the director forgot the camera can move, so that may be a moot point.

Now for the list of things I dislike about this movie. Buckle up, grab some popcorn, find a rest area, ‘cuz this may take a while. When the younger Marryot starts to woo Fanny Bridges, World War I has just started, so it’s 1914. In the 1900 scenes she’s an infant. Do the math. That Marryot kid is one sick bastard. But then Fanny just keeps on dancing in the street like a slightly more masculine version of David Bowie while her father is dying, so she’s not prize either. And the story line with Mr. Bridges is more than a bit aggravating. His life in service is nice, but he buys a business, becomes his own man, and all of a sudden he’s an alcoholic and gets run over by a fire truck halfway through the movie. That’s not a very American sentiment and I doubt any director would have the balls to even try it today. Now, they get props for doing something original, but I thought this movie was supposed to trace the fortunes of two families over the course of the first 33 years of the 20th century. Not trace the fortunes of two families for eight years or so, then have the widow make a couple brief appearances after her husband dies. But there is that underlying message in there that a man can be much happier waiting on the upper crust of society than owning a small business that I simply have a problem with. Maybe it’s the American in me, but it seems like this concept would yield a movie 100 times better in the fortunes of the one family steadily improved while the fortunes of the other remained stagnant of faltered. The fact that Mr. Bridges strikes out on his own and all of a sudden his life goes entirely downhill just doesn’t sit well with me.

Now what this movie is trying to do is quite ambitious. And perhaps they bit off more than they could chew, since the true dream of what this movie could be couldn’t be realized in the relatively short run time of 110 minutes. The scenes tend to be on the short side, with major events such as the Titanic hitting an iceberg, being mentioned but not shown. In an effort to get to the next major historic landmark, the movie runs along at an impressive clip, that results in much of the characterization being unrealized and the plot being flat.

That’s not to say Cavalcade isn’t worth your time. It is an interesting movie with some interesting ideas and some great acting. The contrast between the upstairs and downstairs in the 1900 scenes are quite good, as is the contrast between Mrs. Marryot’s views on the Boer War and World War I. But too much of the movie is uneven to consider it the best of 1933, especially when that was the year King Kong and Duck Soup were released. Now of course neither was nominated, because the Academy was too enthralled by the likes of State Fair, 42nd Street, and Farewell to Arms, but though Cavalcade is better than that lot, it isn’t better than one of the highlights of the Marx Brothers’ career and the eighth wonder of the world.


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