I always think it’s much harder to decide what movie or what performance will be the last in your ranking instead of the first. There is something so cruel about putting someone or something at the last place and in a lot of cases, it actually makes the contender look worse than it really is – after all, a ranking is about comparing and a movie can still be very good even though 82 others are better. But to be honest – Cavalcade isn’t very good. It’s not even partly good.
The battle for the last place was between this one and the movie on number 82. The movie on number 82 has actually more things I dislike than Cavalcade but it also has some redeeming qualities while I fail to come up with one thing about Cavalcade that is really praiseworthy. In my Best Actress Ranking, I have already shown a tendency to dismiss a lot the earlier Oscar winners – but this has surely nothing to do with them being old, I love old movies, but I just think that in its early days the Academy simply didn’t cover itself with glory when picking the winners.
Cavalcade tells the story about the Marryot-family, rich and happy people in England before the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, and of their servants, the Bridges. Their lives are touched by the Second Boer War, the sinking of the Titanic and the First World War.
Well, what is there to dislike? On paper, it sounds like a perfect movie for me – English history, historical events, a grand epic! But the outcome is probably the most lifeless, dated, staged, uninspired, clichéd and superficial movie this category has seen as a winner – which is also the reason for the last place.
Another reason why the characters keep such a distance is also the simple truth – the shockingly unsatisfying cast. I haven’t been kind to Diana Wynyard in my review of her performance, but the truth is that she is still the most impressive player – to be more accurate, she is the most impressive of the adult players since the kid actors actually manage to be the only breath of fresh air. Una O’Connor gets to deliver various histrionic hysterics (no other way to put it) while Clive Brook and the actors who play the adult children are as bland and lifeless as Diana Wynyard’s laser-eyes. Unfortunately, not a single member of the cast shows any sign of chemistry with any other member of the cast. Especially the second half, that focuses more on one of the Marryots’ son becomes almost intolerable slow.
But just as much fault for the movie’s failure goes to the predicable script and the unimaginative direction. While every scene suffers from heavy-handed dialogue that might have sounded good on a theatre stage and a lifeless presentation, nothing symbolizes the problems of Cavalcade more than the infamous Titanic-sequence in which the two actors are actually forced to speak dialogue about the possibility of death and the question of regrets (these two characters aren’t Jack and Rose swimming in ice water, these are two happy people on their honeymoon). The whole scene feels so forced upon the audience as if Noel Coward and Frank Lloyd feared that only one moment of the movie could feel meaningless (in their eyes). Everything in the story is as subtle as a plane crash – Cavalcade reeks with a feeling of self-importance and superiority but all those monologues and dialogues only reveal the simple truth that, as much as Cavalcade thinks it has to say, it doesn’t say anything at all. Nothing about the time it presents, nothing about the lives of its characters, nothing about the past or the future. Cavalcade fails as a human drama because it lacks personalities, it fails as a political drama because it has nothing to say and it fails as a historic drama because it never even begins to explore the possibilities it had. Oh, and why are there so many endless, out-of-place musical numbers? It couldn’t be to extend the running time since the 110 minutes already feel like 1100 minutes…
My whole opinion of the movie might have been changed if there had at least been one, just ONE interesting aspect – may it be one performance, a certain scene, clever dialogue, memorable images. But it doesn’t offer any of that.
As it is, out of all the winners in this category, Cavalcade is the only one that gives no reason to recommend it to anyone.