Noel Coward's paean to British fortitude and its eternal stiff-upper-lip amid the changing social order and the alteration of moral values over the course of three decades at the turn of the twentieth century gets an audacious yet faithful Hollywood recreation in Frank Lloyd's Cavalcade. An even more lavish pageant of the personal and profound than the stage version, Cavalcade on film has the scale and size no stage production could have offered, and while its melodramatic excesses are sometimes a little much for modern tastes, it’s still an engrossing look at two families coping with changing times amid a series of tumults which change forever the English way of life.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVDkeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/06/2013
At the beginning of 1900, Jane Marryot (Diana Wynyard) must prepare to send her beloved husband Robert (Clive Brook) off to fight the Boer War while her housemaid Ellen Bridges (Una O'Connor) is doing the same with her husband Alf (Herbert Mundin). When they return unharmed, it’s not quite life as usual as Alf has seen a life without service to a master to be to his liking, and he buys a pub and moves his family out from service. From then on through the rise of technology, World War I, and the Jazz Age, the two families ebb and flow with life’s unexpected events. Jane’s two sons Edward (Dick Henderson, Jr. as a child, John Warburton as an adult) and Joey (Douglas Scott, Frank Lawton as an adult) both find love and experience death, Ellen’s daughter Fanny (Bonita Granville, Ursula Jeans as an adult) earns success on the stage, and the entirety of England experiences the ravages of a world war and its aftermath which effectively begins the breakdown of the English social classes.
The Production Rating: 4/5
As lavish as Coward’s 1929 stage production was (with hundreds of actors appearing in the stage spectacle), that’s nothing compared to the expansiveness of the film version which can feature thousands of extras and the kind of outdoor pageantry (sending hundreds of troops off to war amid parades and a flotilla crammed with men) not possible on the stage. Not only that but director Frank Lloyd can mount montages which effectively note the tragic destruction in terms of materials and manpower a world war necessitates (this sequence set to the stirring period tunes on the soundtrack of “It’s a Along Way to Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles” is especially effective) that the stage couldn’t possibly present. The script by Reignald Berkeley is as episodic as Coward’s play: thirty-three years (twenty-nine years in the stage version which is why there’s no mention of the depression) covered in less than two hours, so there is much that must be omitted in the lives of these families. Due to that expansive amount of time being covered, we see very little of the joy and much too much of the sorrow giving the film’s last two-thirds a rather somberly predictable tone. That doesn’t mean there aren’t successful sequences: Edward and Edith’s (Margaret Lindsay) honeymoon trip in 1912 offers joy tinged with tragedy (there’s a bit too much talk about dying not to figure out the scene’s twist before it occurs), and Fanny’s rendition of Coward’s “Twentieth Century Blues” amid a decadent crowd of “bright young things” uses visuals and sound techniques to expressive advantage. And though made completely in Hollywood, the film successfully convinces the viewer that we're in London with sequences like Queen Victoria's funeral procession and the massive celebrations after the various wars seeming very true to life.
Diana Wynyard as Jane received the lion’s share of praise for the film (and the only acting Oscar nomination) aging gracefully over three decades and portraying that stiff upper lip attitude as well as any British actress ever has. Clive Brook has less to do as the steadfast husband, but he, too, ages believably over the course of the film, and his encounter with younger son Joey near the end of World War I is poignant despite a lack of sentiment. Of the supporting players, Irene Browne as Jane’s best friend Margaret Harris offers a more fun-loving view of British upper crust frivolity and is very appealing. Una O'Connor gives her usual solid performance as the maid who later is able to meet her former employer on somewhat equal terms, and Herbert Mundin is likable as the former valet who is a bit at sea once he becomes his own master.
The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. With elements this ancient, it’s amazing the film looks as good as it does, but there are problems on display to be sure. There are both black and white scratches here and there and an odd tendency in long shots for images to glow a bit. You’ll see some dust specks occasionally and sharpness which isn’t always consistent across the entirety of the frame or especially in some long shots. Grayscale is rather pleasing with black levels which can be (but aren’t always) nicely dark, and whites that don’t bloom. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is stronger than one might think it’s going to be. There is very little hiss though at times there’s a slight amount of attenuated crackle. Dialogue is always very understandable, a good thing for a script that relies heavily on dialogue. Sound effects and music don’t often get in the way of understanding what’s being said though an early theatrical sequence shows the limits of early sound recording where it’s difficult to make out what the performers are singing during the live recording of vocals and orchestra before the show gets interrupted with news about Mafeking.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: critic Richard Schickel rambles on and off through the film, sometimes giving historical information about the actors and the stage production but with some occasional gaffes (Charles Laughton did not win the Oscar for Mutiny on the Bounty). Still, he’s more tolerant and affectionate with this film than he is on some of his other notorious commentaries.
Special Features Rating: 1.5/5
Fox Movietone News (1:00, SD): a brief clip at the Academy Awards ceremony as Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, and director Frank Lloyd congratulate producer Winfield Sheehan for winning the top honor.
DVD Copy: included in the keep case
Another nice surprise in the Fox Studio Classics line, Cavalcade¸ which won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for its year, offers more than reasonably good picture and sound for a film that’s eighty years old and makes a welcome addition to the Blu-ray array of classic titles.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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