81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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August 25th, 2009 · No Comments · 1932-1933, Adaptation, Black and White, Cavalcade, Drama, Fox Film Corporation, Frank Lloyd, Herbert Mundin, Mordaunt Hall, Not Released In United States, War

cavalcadeI didn’t think I was going to be able to watch this movie today.

Cavalcade is one of only two Oscar-winning movies (the other being the 1927 silent film Wings) that has not been released on DVD in the United States. So don’t look for it in your local Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, FYE, or Blockbuster. You won’t find it.

I purchased this DVD (at a ludicrously high price) from Amazon Marketplace. It’s a Chinese import, listed as being Region 1, which means it’s playable on DVD players in North America.


This morning I popped the DVD into our Sony 1080p Upscaling player and beheld this message on the TV screen: “Playback prohibited by area limitations.” My heart sank. The DVD wouldn’t play! It wasn’t the right region for our player.

After nearly a day of research, e-mailing, and worry, I slid the DVD into my MacBook Pro and – voila! – it played perfectly. Thanks to my computer-to-TV connections, I’ll be able to watch the movie on our TV instead of on the laptop.

Ain’t technology grand?

On with the show!

To start, I turn once again to Mordaunt Hall, the first regularly assigned motion picture critic for The New York Times, from October 1924 to September 1934 (according to his entry on Wikipedia). Mr. Hall reviewed Cavalcade on January 6, 1933:

It is a most affecting and impressive picture that Fox studios have produced from Noel Coward’s stage panorama, “Cavalcade.” It reached the Gaiety last night and, without having seen the original, one sense the genuine quality of the film and also the advantages that have been taken of the camera’s far-seeing eye. Never for an instant is the story, which takes one through three decades of life in England, lost sigh of, notwithstanding the inclusion of remarkable scenes of throngs in war and peace, and it is a relief to observe that the obvious is left to the spectator’s imagination.

One sees England, merry and sad, belligerent and peaceful, an England with the characters speaking their minds. The atmosphere of London and elsewhere has been reproduced in a masterful fashion, from the days of the Boer War to the present time. In the early episodes one hears occasionally the sound of horses’ hoofs on the streets and now and again an old four-wheeling puts in an appearance…

This production was directed by Frank Lloyd, under the experienced supervision of Winfield Sheehan, who knows his London. In all its scenes there is a meticulous attention to detail…

It is a tale of joy and woe, chiefly concerned with the experience of Robert Marryot and his wife, Jane, and embracing what happens to their children and their servants. It is unfurled with such marked good taste and restraint that many an eye will be misty after witnessing this production.

It begins with New Year’s Eve in 1899, with the Marryots drinking their customary toast…

History of the Academy Award WinnersFrom the slim little volume History of the Academy Award Winners comes this:

Based on the play by that awesome theatrical talent Noel Coward, Cavalcade was so much a love song ot Britain that it seems almost odd than an American film company should have made it. But when Fox did, it saw to it that the cast and most of the production people were tight-little-Islanders, and the story was handled with impeccable taste and dignity.

An American public took all these British goings-on so much to its heart that when Cavalcade premiered in New York, the audience stood up and cheered.

Well, we’ll see about that. If my wife and I stand up and cheer, I’ll let you know.

Movie’s over. And the only cheering we’re doing is because the movie is over. Actually, I’m cheering. My wife is sleeping.

The one word that best describes Cavalcade is “tedious.”

Let’s see. Cimarron was about a family that aged over the decades. All Quiet On the Western Front was about war. Put them together and what do you have? Why, Cavalcade, of course!

Three title cards at the beginning of the movie set the stage for what was to unfold:

This is the story of a home and a family…history seen through the eyes of a wife and mother whose love tempers both fortune and disaster…

As 1899 ends, England is at war with the Boers in South Africa, but the tide of battle is against her…It is a national emergency…

New Year’s Eve…our London family, sheltered through two generations of VIctorian prosperity, awaits the headlong cavalcade of the twentieth century…

I wrote down the following quotes from the movie. Once they were on paper, I looked at them and realized they pretty well sum up the movie in about 10 seconds (15 if you read out loud) – which will save you about 100 minutes of your life should you, delirious with fever, ever decide you want to watch Cavalcade. You can thank me later:

“We have to have wars now and then just to prove we’re still top dog.”

“Peace and happiness, always.”

“Have a cup of tea. Let’s all have a cup of tea.”

“Nice place, Oxford. Very antique, if you know what I mean.”

“We could never in our whole lives by happier than we are now. Could we?” (Spoken by a new bride on the deck of the couple’s honeymoon cruise ship – the Titanic.)

“My dears, we’re at war with Germany.”

“Everything passes. Even time.”

“It’s been quite an adventure, our life together.”

There you have it – the abridged version of Cavalcade. If one were to take out the words “marvelous,” “darling,” “dreadfully,” “terribly,” and “love,” this movie would have been half as long. And twice as interesting.

It’s hard to believe the director, Frank Lloyd, won an Academy Award for this film. It was a cacophony of sound (mostly women or children shrilly crying or screaming) and a dizzying array of images. A few of the montages (like the one meant to recap the War years 1915-1918) were so incredibly annoying that I just wanted to turn off the movie and go to bed. And, since it is based on Noel Coward’s stage play, Cavalcade is the fourth Oscar-winning movie to be labeled an adaptation.

The transfer to DVD was rough. It wasn’t exactly terrible. But it came off looking stark and harsh, like an episode of The Twilight Zone shot on videotape and watched 50 years later. As it was, it appears to be a straight video-to-DVD transfer.

Overall, Cavalcade looked like a stage play. It was clumsily acted and scripted, and ham-fistedly pointed in its message, which bordered between anti-war and pro-life. (In other words, the depths of despair and the heights of joy.) The actors wallowed in each with appropriate emotions to indicate which one their characters happened to be in at the time.

Can I get back the ludicrously high price I paid for this movie?


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