Cavalcade (1933) Director: Frank Lloyd
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 follows the Marryots 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 concluding 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 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.
Cavalcade is a good film, though a curious choice for the winner of Best Picture (one of many future curious choices). Despite mediocre acting and its requirement of a highly patient audience, the film’s redeeming qualities are 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 lost their children in some of the great tragedies of the 20th century.