Film 29: Cavalcade

Cavalcade (1933) dir. Frank Lloyd. USA.

“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.

— Variety Staff

Abigail:  This is a heartfelt, heartwarming movie about the ravages of war and time.  That sounds like it would be unbearable to watch, but somehow it maintains a lightness of touch, and quippy wit that allows the passage of 40 years to be not only palatable, but necessary.  It was also, amazingly, told from the perspective of women — a lens that helps to see the loss and sadness of war, rather than the glory and excitement of it.  Noel Coward, like many of his gay playwright compatriots ( Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams to name a few of the greats), was able to see the world from a female perspective, even though he lived with the privilege of being white and male.   This is an extraordinary feat, and a marvelous movie.  It should rival “It’s a Wonderful Life” for its holiday depth — the framing device is New Year’s Eve over several years and many wars.  I really enjoyed this movie, and feel confident that it would hold up in a second viewing.

Forrest:  I loved this movie.  I didn’t expect to.  Going into it, I imagined it would be on par with “Cimmaron” — the sort of thing that wins awards the year it’s released and is already obsolete by the next Oscars.  I was wrong.  I should have known better.  If I’ve learned anything in my 26 years it’s that Noel Coward’s name below the title of anything promises excellence.  This is, basically, the British “Cimmaron.”  It tells the story of one family across some 35 years, in a manner than is meant to stand in for the entire country.  In this case, that country is Britain.  We see the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, WWI, the Roaring Twenties — but whereas this device felt contrived in “Cimmaron,” it worked excellently here.  This is thanks to the writing and the performances — the central family is rendered so vividly and fully that we’re swept into their lives in a way we never were in the Western.

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