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Cavalcade Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 11 Matt Hough

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Posted August 08 2013 - 01:59 PM

Cavalcade Blu-ray Review

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.


Cover Art


Studio: Fox

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, DVD

keep case

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 08/06/2013

MSRP: $29.99




The Production Rating: 4/5

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.

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.



Video Rating: 3/5  3D Rating: NA

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.



Audio Rating: 3.5/5

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.



Special Features Rating: 1.5/5

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.

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



Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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#2 of 11 Rob_Ray

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Posted August 08 2013 - 02:55 PM

Richard Schickel is typically sloppy with the facts.   When the child Edith first appears onscreen, he tells us that the actress is Margaret Lindsey, and goes on to give us a little bit of background on her.  But Margaret Lindsey, a prominent player in the late thirties, plays Edith as an adult and doesn't appear onscreen for the better part of an hour.



#3 of 11 moviepas

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Posted August 09 2013 - 11:46 PM

You would think someone like Schickel would get the facts checked before he rambled. The actress concerned as an adult is Margaret Linds(a)y.

 

I have yet to get mine but it is on the way. I wonder if it still has the British release logo on the end of the film like all TV prints I have seen and on previous VHS? I assume(it was not mentioned) that the original elements were lost in the 1937 New Jersey Fox fire.The 1944 British Technicolor This Happy Breed is moreorless Noel Coward's continuation of this story(Robert Newton, Cecilia Johnson), and a fine film as I see it but not on Blu Ray at this time.



#4 of 11 classicmovieguy

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Posted August 10 2013 - 12:23 AM

Almost as bad as the "fact" included in the inside liner of Universal's Rock Hudson 'Screen Legend' Collection.  Did you know that Hudson and Doris Day starred in "Come September"?  My TV must be fuzzy because I could have sworn that was Gina Lollobrigida in my copy.


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#5 of 11 classicmovieguy

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Posted August 10 2013 - 12:26 AM

You would think someone like Schickel would get the facts checked before he rambled. The actress concerned as an adult is Margaret Linds(a)y.

 

I have yet to get mine but it is on the way. I wonder if it still has the British release logo on the end of the film like all TV prints I have seen and on previous VHS? I assume(it was not mentioned) that the original elements were lost in the 1937 New Jersey Fox fire.The 1944 British Technicolor This Happy Breed is moreorless Noel Coward's continuation of this story(Robert Newton, Cecilia Johnson), and a fine film as I see it but not on Blu Ray at this time.

"This Happy Breed" is on Blu in the UK...

 

http://www.amazon.co...his happy breed



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#6 of 11 Mark Walker

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Posted August 10 2013 - 03:51 AM

Great review, Matt!  I am now intrigued.  


Paramount, please release DRAGONSLAYER on Blu-ray

Dragonslayer_1981HTF_zps4e370848.jpg

 

 

Vermithrax Pejorative deserves to be seen in high-def.


#7 of 11 Matt Hough

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Posted August 10 2013 - 04:39 AM

You would think someone like Schickel would get the facts checked before he rambled. The actress concerned as an adult is Margaret Linds(a)y.

 

 

 

And even when he doesn't make mistakes, his knowledge has obvious gaps. He mentions Bonita Granville and her later fame as one of the owners of the Lassie franchise but says Cavalcade was her professional high spot when, of course, she earned an Oscar nomination for These Three, starred in the Nancy Drew series of films, and had a notable role in Now, Voyager, none of which is mentioned by Schickel. He says this was Frank Lawton's best known film not mentioning that he starred as the grown up title character in David Copperfield.

 

I really don't like his off-the-cuff commentaries. It's obvious very little work has gone into their production.


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#8 of 11 Matt Hough

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Posted August 10 2013 - 04:42 AM

The 1944 British Technicolor This Happy Breed is moreorless Noel Coward's continuation of this story(Robert Newton, Cecilia Johnson), and a fine film as I see it but not on Blu Ray at this time.

 

It is available here, too. Criterion released it as part of David Lean Directs Noel Coward Blu-ray set. My review can be found here.


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#9 of 11 Nick*Z

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Posted August 20 2013 - 05:34 AM

Cavalcade is poignant and affecting. The transfer less so. I suspect Fox merely exported its existing digital files used in the DVD mastering to get this one into stores quickly. The HD transfer lags in virtually all departments - muddy, excessively grainy without reproduction of natural looking grain, faded in spots and a distinct and tragic loss of fine detail throughout.

 

What ought to have occurred for this release was a complete rescan of the original - or whatever film elements currently exist, then some digital clean up and correction of the contrast levels which at times in the current transfer are much too low. The opening shot of Big Ben is non-existent. We can barely make out the glowing time piece. The tower itself lost in a murky black abyss. In a perfect world, such a restoration would have and SHOULD HAVE occurred. It didn't. We're left with Cavalcade in less than pluperfect condition. It still deserves to be seen - just not this way!

 

RE: This Happy Breed - a gorgeous transfer of a superb English melodrama; Coward's writing attaining a level of perfection pretty hard to top and given subtle charm and eloquence by a fantastic cast. An absolute 'must own' in my opinion!



#10 of 11 Dick

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Posted August 21 2013 - 04:20 AM

"You would think someone like Schickel would get the facts checked before he rambled."

 

To paraphrase a Roger Ebert comment about vacuous consumers and their distaste for letterboxing (I believe), I think Schickel's license to do commentaries should be revoked. He is in my book the most irritating of the so-called "historians," and I wish studios would stop enlisting his services for these classic releases. I would sooner listen to Gilbert Godfried in his stand-up voice doing a commentary for CASABLANCA.



#11 of 11 Matt Hough

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Posted August 28 2013 - 04:07 AM

He has coasted a long time on that wonderful Men Who Made the Movies documentary series.







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