Best Picture Winners #6 – Cavalcade (1933)

When Andrew and I put together our list of Best Picture winners for this movie project, I realized that I’d heard of more past Best Picture Winners than I thought, though of course, I hadn’t seen many of them. There were still a few on the list that I have already seen (which means we’ll have to watch a nominee instead of a winner for the years when movies like  Titanic, Out of Africa, and Gone with the Wind won Best Picture).

But once in a while, we came across a name that didn’t register with either of us.

Cavalcade was one of them.

Based on the title (horses! A procession of them!), I imagined that it was another Western à la Cimarron (but hopefully way better!). Hey, horses, so probably cowboys or ghost towns or…..

Oh wait…..

*looking at brief plot summary*

Oh wow, nothing like I thought.

Ohhhhhh, so not a literal cavalcade…..

OK. Well, considering how much I like metaphors in my lyric writing, I can get behind that. As long as it’s not too out there (so says the Tori Amos fan).

So if this isn’t a Western, then what is this little-known Oscar winner about?

Well, it’s based on a play (woohoo for more adaptations of other media!), a Noel Coward play, that is. Noel Coward. A British playwright whose name has come up on Pointless a few times, but not a name that I’m sure registers with most Americans (certainly didn’t with me). And it tells the story of two families, the upper-class Marryot (pronounced like the hotel chain Marriott) and the slightly lower-class Bridges, as they make their way through the first thirty-three years of the twentieth century. They live through the Boer Wars in southern Africa, the Titanic sinking, World War I, and then the hopeful beginning of the 30s (oh just you wait a few years……. :-/ ), and the movie shows how these families are affected by these major world events.

And as we pass on to each world event, we get a title card with the year and about a minute of an actual cavalcade going by before we go in to the action.

So that’s the plot in a nutshell. Nice representations of major world events from the early 20th century.

An early nostalgia movie (the play premiered in 1931, this won in 1933).

What was most interesting to me about this movie were seeing these major world events played out. It’s even made me want to read more about the Boer War, a time period (late 1890s – early 1900s) that I know nothing about in British/world history. America wasn’t involved in it, so I never learned about it in history class in school, though I saw references to it in old British novels I used to read. In fact, my only knowledge of African colonization is through my college French classes (woohoo for being a French major!), and that was all in northern and western Africa, not southern Africa. So this movie has made me more curious about that time period.

And the montage of World War I was chilling.

Other than those big world events….. All in all, I really didn’t find myself caring much about the characters, to be honest. I certainly loved their clothes (I could totally see one of my favorite singers Eliza Rickman dressed in some of the lacy Edwardian dresses those women wore in the party scenes!), and I imagined what it must be like to wear something so fancy (hey, I love sewing and designing clothes so I notice these things!). But I didn’t find myself caring much about what was happening to them. The acting was just okay (it still felt very stagey and melodramatic) and the story draaaaagggeeeeddddd.

I also wondered how one family could possibly be involved in all those major events.

There was a TV show I liked for a while called American Dreams, an NBC drama about a white Catholic family in Philadelphia living through the 60s. Throughout the three seasons this show was on the air, every possible major event of the 60s just happened to this family. The older brother JJ wanted to be a soldier in Vietnam then he switched to being an astronaut. The younger daughter gets involved with a hippie toward the end of the series. Philadelphia riots just happen outside their door. It all just felt a bit much and “really? this is a lot to take in for one family. Even my parents, who lived through the 60s, didn’t have all of that happening to them……”

And the ending of Cavalcade is just chilling watching in 2016, when we all know that the optimism everyone had for the new year in 1933 was going to be shattered in a few years with the coming of World War II. It made me teary, actually.

At least I felt something.

3 stars out of 5.

Note: This movie is NOT available on Netflix or on a separate DVD. Apparently, it’s on a Blu-ray box set but is not available by itself on DVD. So in order to watch this movie, I had to rent this from Amazon. This is one of several movies for this project that we will have to watch on Amazon Rentals because it isn’t available otherwise (and Netflix usually carries most things, even things you think they won’t have.) And if it’s not readily on DVD, probably our local independent video store the Naro won’t have it. So if you are interested in watching Cavalcade, Amazon Rentals is the way to go.

Next time: A classic movie, one that I had heard a lot of good things about prior to this project, called It Happened One Night