Friday, March 9, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Cavalcade (1932-33)

And here we are at the nadir of Best Picture winners. Of course, just as everyone argues over which BP is the best (both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes say The Godfather...I disagree) everyone also has an opinion on which is the worst. Again, both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes pick the same film: Cimarron.

...I disagree.

One could waste her life on comparing and contrasting BP's so I'm not going to open up the file of Cimarron vs. Cavalcade. What it really boils down to for me is home video. It's quite notorious among us Oscar-philes how Cavalcade has never been given a proper Region 1 DVD release. (Until a mere 6 weeks ago, Wings suffered from the same fate.) A VHS version of Cavalcade was released, without fanfare, in 1993. Since then it has been featured in a massive DVD box set known as the Twentieth Century Fox 75th Anniversary Collection which includes 75 of Fox's "greatest hits" like The Seven Year Itch, Star Wars, The Devil Wears Prada, and their other Best Picture Winners.

My point? Nobody really cares about Cavalcade. Fox, who once upon made money off the thing, who won their first BP Oscar for it, doesn't even care. And as anyone in a failing relationship knows, indifference is far worse than bitter hatred. Unlike Disney's Song of the South, political correctness and fear isn't keeping Cavalcade in the vault, sheer badness is. I doubt anyone's writing letters to the CEO begging for this movie's liberation.

Enough prologue. Let's get to it.

Continuing our pattern of non-original screenplays, Cavalcade was adapted from the 1931 Noël Coward play of the same name. The Marryots are a prototypical wealthy British family consisting of matriarch Jane (Diana Wynyard), her husband Robert (Clive Brook), and their two sons Edward (John Warburton) and Joey (Frank Lawton). Beginning on New Year's Eve 1899, we experience the Second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the roaring 20's with the Marryot family. We also get a window into the life of the Marryots' former maid Ellen Bridges (Una O'Connor) and her daughter Fanny's (Ursula Jeans) rise to fame as a singer in the 10's and 20's. yeah, it's kind of like Cimarron only now we're in Britain...which means it's kind of like Upstairs, Downstairs...and for those of you in the 21st century, Downton Abbey.

I think what makes this movie suck so much is the characters. And by characters I mean the people in the movie who have things happen to them. There are no "characters" here. I can think of no distinguishing traits of anyone in this fucker. Jane Marryot is a mother, she loves her husband, but nothing more. Robert Marryot is a father, he loves his wife, but nothing more. Their sons, Edward and Joey...well, one dies on the Titanic and the other dies in WWI...but nothing more.

I'm sorry but I'm going to have to compare Cavalcade to Cimarron here...At least Yancey Cravat had some spark! He was a dick and melodramatic but he was also a doer! He had personality! Even when he wasn't on screen, you were thinking about when he was going to show up again. There is none of that in Cavalcade-land.

Also the film presents the historical bits in a completely ham-fisted, in-yo-face way. It feels sort of like a clumsily written 6th grade play. And another thing, the Marryots and their friends are all clairvoyant. Something big is always about to happen for them. The worst scene takes place on the Titanic while Edward's new wife (Margaret Harrison) discusses how unhappy they'll be one day so wouldn't be perfect if they died on this night???

Stolen from Nick's Flick Picks.

Yuck. It's disappointing to me because it's such a great and simple concept! This movie could have been good! I blame it on the script entirely. The wooden, textbook dialogue robs the actors of any opportunity to do something interesting. Okay, it's not all Noel Coward's fault because there are some bad editing choices, especially when showing the passage of time. I'm thinking of a few montages of SOUND and SINGING and IMAGES ALL AT THE SAME TIME. DON'T YOU GET IT?? TIME IS PASSING!!! STUFF IS HAPPENING!!! SIMULTANEOUS!!! Still, I could forgive those scenes if everything else wasn't so tortuous.

So for right now, Cavalcade is my pick for worst Best Picture winner. That may change, of course. Part of this retrospective is to examine my changing tastes and ever-so-erudite cinematic intellect. Only time will tell...

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. For all the reasons above. And the hair is wrong! Nobody wore finger waves until the 1920's!!!

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)

  • Best Director - Frank Lloyd 
  • Best Actress - Diana Wynyard 
  • Best Art Direction 

1932-33 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)

  • A Farewell to Arms 
  • 42nd Street 
  • I Am a Fugitive From the Chain Gang 
  • Lady For a Day 
  • Little Women 
  • The Life of Henry VIII 
  • She Done Him Wrong - Mae West makes dirty jokes for 66 minutes. 
  • Smilin' Through 
  • State Fair 

What I Learned From...Cavalcade
Time passes. Things happen. You can't do nothing about it.

On a personal note, I was lucky to snag a library copy of Cavalcade from Amazon back in '06 for mere pennies plus shipping. The box is cut up and mangled, but I treasure it...for some reason.

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