Cavalcade (1933) Review

Cavalcade (1933) Director: Frank Lloyd


Cavalcade is a curious choice for Best Picture (one of many odd decisions made by the Academy). Despite its mediocre acting and bland plot (the film is mostly a bore), its redeeming qualities lie in its powerful montage sequences toward the end in which the chaos of the British Empire, between its wars and moral ambivalence, are contrasted with the mores of a family who have lost their children in the great tragedies of the 20th century.

Cavalcade, the winner of three Academy Awards in 1933 including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Direction, is a biopic that tells the story of a British family through their various trials and tribulations. The plot is epic in scale. It follows the Marryot family beginning on New Years Day in 1899-1900, through the Boer Wars, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic where two of the main characters drown on their honeymoon, and it concludes with the outbreak of World War I where their last remaining son dies. The film is, at root, a tragic exploration into the decline of the British Empire. The youthful idealism behind the Boer Wars quickly turns to jaded pessimism as World War I kills all of the young men and leads to the moral relativism of the 1920s and a second ‘great’ war.

The regulatory Hay’s Office, the American censorship bureau at the time, was concerned that the use of “damn” and “hell” would set a precedent in films that would grow increasingly more profane, but the film was ultimately not edited. It was released as a Fox Movietone film.

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