In 1933, the Academy chose Cavalcade as the Best Picture. It must have been a rough year.
The word “cavalcade” means “a procession” or “series.” The idea was to be a cavalcade of events occurring at the turn of the twentieth century. And it was. However, the inclusion of every single major event during that time period was a bit contrived. The Boer War in South Africa, Bleriot’s flight across the English Channel, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and the use of Zeppelin blimps, all strung together with the song “Auld Lang Syne,” to be sung at every return of a soldier and New Year’s Day.
The viewer follows two families through these events: one upper-class family, and the family’s servants, who move out to begin an independent story of themselves. I think the idea of the story could be very effective. The intertwining of the two families was almost natural. However, the progression through two decades felt rushed. At one point, the film fades into a World War I montage, showing faces of soldiers dying and dancers performing over a constant background of lines of soldiers marching around a particular curve in the road, while the surrounding scene becomes more and more desolate. Every few minutes, the year would pass across the screen. We experienced four years in this way.
I had high hopes for this film. The idea of following two English families through the turn of that century fascinated me. By the third “Auld Lang Syne,” I was very disappointed. There was little reality to the devastation of the Titanic’s sinking. And the war montage was pretty lame. I felt very little connection to any of the characters by the end of the film because there was so little emotional transparency. The only evidence of true sorrow throughout war and death was an unbelievable faint offered by Jane Marryot when her son died in battle. No worries, though… “Auld Lang Syne” was sung shortly thereafter.