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On New Year's Eve, as 1899 is ending, Robert and Jane Marryot, a well-to-do London couple, bittersweetly toast the new century with their two small boys, Joey and Edward, and their servants, Alfred and Ellen Bridges, as both Robert and Alfred are leaving the next day to fight in the war against the Boers in South Africa. After the men leave, the boys play war games with little Edith Harris, the daughter of Jane's friend Margaret, while Jane and Ellen worry about their husbands. Later, as no news of the men has been received, Margaret, to cheer Jane up, takes her to see a musical show. The martial music saddens Jane, but the show is interrupted with the announcement that the South African town of Mafeking, where Jane's brother Jim and other Englishmen have been hemmed in by the Boers, has been relieved, which causes great jubilation in the theater. Upon his return to London, Alfred announces that he has purchased a London pub from another soldier so that his mother-in-law Mrs. Snapper can live with him, Ellen and their little daughter Fanny. As he and Robert celebrate their return to their families, news of Queen Victoria's illness is heard in the streets. Her death is felt by many as a personal loss. Later, Robert is knighted in virtue of his war record. In 1908, Jane and Edward, now a student at Oxford, visit Ellen and Fanny. Alfred, whom Ellen has said is injured to hide his chronic drunkenness, which has threatened to ruin them, comes in drunk. After he calls Jane a snob and throws the doll Jane brought for Fanny, Fanny runs out and joins celebrants dancing in the street. Alfred tries to retrieve her, but he is run down and killed by a fire truck as Fanny obliviously continues to dance. In 1909, by the seashore, Jane runs into Ellen and Fanny, who has just won a dance competition, while Edward walks with Edith and confesses his love for her. On April 14, 1912, Edward and Edith celebrate their honeymoon on a cruise ship in the Atlantic. Although Edith is somewhat reserved about the future, they are both thankful for their moment of happiness, unaware that their ship, the R.M.S. Titanic , will shortly sink. After war is declared in 1914, Joey is excited and anxious to join the army, while Jane, greatly agitated, refuses to drink a toast. Before going to France, Joey recognizes Fanny dancing in a club and surprises her in her dressing room. In 1918, Fanny, now starring in a musical comedy, confesses to Joey, on leave and visiting her dressing room again as she prepares for her cue, that she loves him; however, she refuses his proposal of marriage, saying that although their love affair has been great fun, she is not sure that they would be happy or that his mother would approve, and that they should wait until he returns. The day of the armistice, Ellen visits Jane and, after revealing the affair, which she has learned about from reading Joey's letter to Fanny, demands that Joey marry Fanny. Taken aback, Jane castigates Ellen and says she never interferes with Joey's affairs, then expresses regrets about the changes that the century has brought. Just then she receives a message that Joey has died and faints as celebrations begin in the street below. Jane then joins the celebrants in a dazed state. The following passing years bring political controversies, social upheavals and societal changes. Fanny sings the new hit "Twentieth Century Blues" at a club. On the eve of the new year of 1933, Robert and Jane, now an elderly couple, toast the future. Robert, optimistic as usual, and Jane, still reserved, acknowledge the great adventure their life together has been and drink to each other, to the past and future of England, to "the spirit of gallantry and courage that made a strange heaven out of an unbelievable hell," and to the hope that England "will find dignity and greatness and peace again." Outside, "Auld Lang Syne" is sung in the street below as bells ring in the new year. Robert and Jane walk out to their terrace, kiss each other and look on.
Dick Henderson Jr.
Nat D. Ayer
E. W. Butcher
Louis De Francesco
Louis De Francesco
Lena G. Ford
John A. Glover-kind
Arthur J. Lamb
Charles E. Mccarthy
William C. Menzies
R. C. Moore
Harry Von Tilzer
Western Costume Company
J. S. Zamecnik
Best Art Direction
According to Coward, while Private Lives was still running in London he conceived of the notion of a play constructed out of a series of historical tableaus. He later honed in on the Boer War as a starting point after happening across old issues of the Illustrated London News. A picture of a ship bearing troops further sparked childhood memories of tunes from the era. The finished play consists of three acts divided into 22 scenes, spanning from December 31, 1889 to 1930. It follows the fortunes and misfortunes of the Marryot family and their servants, the Bridges, over a period encompassing the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and the onset of the Great Depression. Coward also includes several popular songs from the period such as "The Soldiers of the Queen," "Auld Lang Syne" and "Land of Hope and Glory," alongside his own compositions such as an excerpt from the operetta Mirabelle and the song "Twentieth Century Blues." The play's last scene, entitled "Chaos," consists of several vignettes playing onstage simultaneously, with spotlights shifting rapidly from each "vision" to the next. The effect is much like a montage sequence in film, and the film adaptation in fact closes with a montage sequence that closely follows the idea of the original scene.
Cavalcade was above all a triumph of production design, thanks to Coward and his regular collaborator, the stage designer Gladys Calthrop. The stage at the Drury Lane Theatre contained several hydraulic lifts and a complex automated lighting system. On top of that, each of the play's twenty-two scenes took place in a different time period and often required a complete change of scenery. While casting the play's extensive crowd scenes (which required some four hundred extras), Coward and the play's producers were besieged with applicants: over a thousand people applied despite the low pay. England was, after all, just barely emerging from the depths of the Great Depression. Ultimately, the play's stoic treatment of personal and public tragedy resonated deeply with British theater audiences at the time and left them with strong feelings of national pride. Coward himself said to the audience on opening night: "I hope that this play has made you feel that, in spite of the troublous times we are living in, it is still pretty exciting to be English."
In his autobiography, Coward later seemed ambivalent about the play's success as an expression of patriotism and nostalgia. On the one hand, he took pains to distance himself somewhat from the public's embrace of the play as some kind of patriotic statement: "I hadn't written the play as a dashing patriotic appeal at all. There was certainly love of England in it, a certain natural pride in some of our very typical characteristics, but primarily it was the story of thirty years in the life of a family. I saw where my acute sense of the moment had very nearly cheapened it." Coward also made a dismissive remark about "cash[ing] in on all the tin-pot glory" and pointed to the "irony of the war scenes" to suggest that there was something more complex going on underneath the surface. On the other hand, he wrote: "I know that it made many people cry and gave to some of them a feeling of hope for England's future, so perhaps I did do them a service after all, for it is better to hope than to despair." The play's critical reception in England was in fact divided, with a number of prominent critics accusing it of jingoism and classism. The playwright Sean O'Casey wrote a series of essays singling out Coward for writing a "tawdry piece of work."
Late in the play's initial run in London, the wife of a Fox studio executive saw a performance and recommended that the studio buy up the rights. A crew then came to film a stage performance, which was used as a reference for the film version; they hired Frank Lloyd, an English director, to direct the picture. Fox also invited Coward to Hollywood to attend the initial story conferences, though in his autobiography Coward recalled excusing himself from the proceedings after one executive proposed opening the film with the image of a bird in winter, sitting alone on a branch before a flock lands to join it.
Three actresses from the London stage production -- Una O'Connor, Irene Browne and Merle Tottenham -- recreated their roles for the film. Ernest Palmer, the director of photography, had earned a reputation as one of the finest cinematographers working at Fox and in Hollywood at that time generally. Earlier films which Palmer photographed include Frank Borzage's Seventh Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928) and The River (1929), and F. W. Murnau's Four Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). Although some sources allege that Cavalcade was one of the films in which Fox recycled war footage from Raymond Bernard's French production Wooden Crosses (1932), a close examination of Cavalcade's footage confirms that it was not from Wooden Crosses but was newly shot for the film, presumably by William Cameron Menzies, who is listed in the credits. Coward himself was delighted with the finished film as a whole, apart from a few minor details. He wrote: "As far as I can remember Cavalcade opened more or less simultaneously in Hollywood and New York and was acclaimed on all sides as one of the greatest pictures ever made which, at that time, I honestly think it was."
The London Times praised Cavalcade as "the best film of English life that has ever been made," describing it as "pictorially alive from beginning to end." The reviewer also thought that the film's added dialogue was written with great skill, though he argued that the big historical scenes on stage were more effective than their film counterparts thanks to their simplicity. Besides the Oscar® for Best Picture, Cavalcade won awards for Best Director and Best Art Direction; Diana Wynyard earned a nomination for Best Actress as the long-suffering mother, Jane Marryot.
Producer/Director: Frank Lloyd
War scenes: William Cameron Menzies
Screenplay: Reginald Berkeley; based on the play by Noel Coward
Director of Photography: Ernest Palmer
Art Director: William Darling
Film Editor: Margaret Clancey
Costumes: Earl Luick
Music Director: Louis De Francesco
Cast: Diana Wynyard (Jane Marryot), Clive Brook (Robert Marryot), Una O'Connor (Ellen Bridges), Herbert Mundin (Alfred Bridges), Beryl Mercer (Cook), Irene Browne (Margaret Harris), Tempe Pigott (Mrs. Snapper), Merle Tottenham (Annie), Frank Lawton (Joe Marryot), Ursula Jeans (Fanny Bridges), Margaret Lindsay (Edith Harris), John Warburton (Edward Marryot), Billy Bevan (George Grainger), Desmond Roberts (Ronnie James), Dick Henderson, Jr. (Master Edward [age 12]), Douglas Scott (Master Joey [age 8]), Sheila MacGill (Edith [age 10]), Bonita Granville (Fanny [age 7]).
BW-112m. Closed Captioning.
by James Steffen
"'Cavalcade': the film of Mr. Coward's play." The Times (London), February 16, 1933, p.10
Coward, Noel. Autobiography: consisting of PRESENT INDICATIVE, FUTURE INDEFINITE, and the uncompleted PAST CONDITIONAL. With an introduction by Sheridan Morley. London: Methuen, 1999.
Hoare, Philip. Noel Coward: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.
Mander, Raymond and Joe Mitchenson. Theatrical Companion to Coward. Second Edition, updated by Barry Day and Sheridan Morley. London: Oberon Books, 2000.
The onscreen credits listed above were taken for a screen billing sheet for the American version, in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library. The screen billing sheet for the British version in the legal records, and the screen credits of the print viewed, contain fewer credits than that of the billing sheet for the American version. The British release credits note that the film was based on Charles B. Cochran's Drury Lane production. According to an Los Angeles Times article, Noël Coward was knighted because of the play. According to Motion Picture Herald, Richard Rowland, a vice-president at Fox, was instrumental in "bringing Cavalcade into the realm of motion picture attention." A contract in the studio's legal records shows that Coward was paid $100,000 for the motion picture rights to the play and for the rights to use the copyrighted songs that he wrote for the play. This figure was one of the highest to be paid for a literary property at that time. According to a Film Daily news item, Frank Borzage began making preparations to direct the film in March 1932 after he completed Young America and planned to work directly with Coward, who was on his way to Hollywood. In his autobiography, Coward states that he met with Fox officials in Hollywood, but that he was not involved in the production. A Los Angeles Times article states that Fox sent Borzage to London with his assistant director, Lew Borzage, and a crew to film the play in its entirety, "the first time a thing like this had been done." Borzage noted in the Los Angeles Times article that the stage play, "a spectacle," had, at times, over 500 persons on stage, more than twenty-five changes of scene, and that double-decked busses, locomotives and horses were brought onto the stage for certain scenes.
According to the Fox legal records, Borzage's contract with the company was suspended as of June 20, 1932 so that he could direct for Paramount [A Farewell to Arms] and the Pickford Co. [Secrets]. A Variety news item noted that Al Rockett was originally to have produced Cavalcade, but that Fox production head Winfield Sheehan returned to the studio, after having been away for a number of months, and decided to use a director with a British background, in addition to a British writer and cast. (According to the legal records, Sonya Levien and S. N. Behrman had written a treatment and adaptation while Borzage was involved with the project, but none of this material was used in the final film.) Hollywood Citizen-News stated, "it was decided that Frank Lloyd, an Englishman, would be better fitted in the matter of background to direct Cavalcade." The news item went on to state that because Coward would not adapt the play, Fox sent to England for Reginald Berkeley, a well-known English author, who had been "an officer in the English Army during the World War and since then a member of Parliament." At that time Elissa Landi, under contract to Fox, was being considered for the female lead. Lloyd, a native of Scotland, who had lived in London for many years, had been loaned from RKO in February 1932 to direct four pictures for Fox. According to a news item, Borzage was willing to leave the project because of the opportunity to direct Mary Pickford in Secrets.
On July 1, 1932, a few weeks after Sheehan returned to the studio, he issued a twelve-page memo to Lloyd and Berkeley giving his analysis of the play. In the memo, Sheehan stated the things he planned to change in the film version: "The low note at the end of the stage play would be bad for the picture. Let the end come with the spirit rising, with faith and hope and with a final spiritual note of happiness. I see shafts of light in photographic lighting effects; an awakening and an ascension such as in the Biblical picture masterpieces in the Ascension of our Lord." Sheehan also noted that in the play, Coward gave the important speeches to the character of "Jane," as opposed to "Robert" because the actor who played Robert was not comparable in talent to Mary Clare, who played his wife. For the film version, Sheehan noted to Lloyd and Berkeley, "With Clive Brook you can get great speeches and the toast properly belongs to the man." Concerning the toast, Sheehan wrote, "In the final toast speech a note is missing but Noël Coward said to me that it was good and belongs there, viz:-England is best when her back is against the wall." Sheehan instructed his writers, "The dialog must be in plain, simple language which can be understood by everyone from 12 to 75 years of age. Cut down the dialog so that every line has story composition or gets laughs. The less dialog, the better, but we must not miss any important points in the dialog of the stageplay." Finally, Sheehan wrote that Cavalcade should be not only the story of England but of the world during the previous thirty-three years. He asked, "Can we tersely spread its importance with international flavor to make it a world epic?...If we can make the audience feel that the world is a good place to live in; that there is happiness and spiritual comfort and a feeling in the heart of contentment and peace of mind to carry on courageously and with faith, then we have accomplished our dramatic theme. When the audience leaves the theatre the people should have the feeling of courage and faith to see the star of hope ahead and the resolve, as a result of what they have witnessed, to be brave, honest, of good cheer and good heart, with confidence that there is an afterworld, a Supreme Being and a reward of happiness in the future."
While Borzage was on the project, there were discussions concerning whether the play would be changed to appeal more to American audiences. A memo in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, dated May 17, 1932, from Colonel Jason S. Joy, the head of the AMPP Studio Relations Committee, states, "The question was up today at Fox whether they would make Cavalcade in its original pro-English version or whether they would attempt to modify it to make it more acceptable for American audiences. After considerable discussion with them I think I succeeded in persuading them to adhere rather honestly to the pro-English version." According to a news item, Fox at one time considered producing a version for British audiences first and then using long shots from that version in a second version with "more intimate scenes for the American audience added."
The involvement of Hays Office officials Joy and his assistant Lamar Trotti continued once Sheehan took over the production reins. On June 17, 1932, Joy reported to MPPDA president Will H. Hays, "With the return of Winnie Sheehan, the Fox situation begins to look up a bit and they are making plans for the production of Cavalcade and State Fair....Immediately on his return Sheehan telephoned to ask us to familiarize ourselves with the play [Cavalcade] and novel [State Fair] with the idea of giving them some idea how they ought to be treated." On 19 Jul, Joy and Trotti reported that they looked at the filmed play that Borzage brought back and went over the project in "great detail" with Sheehan, production executive Sol M. Wurtzel, Lloyd and Berkeley. On September 24, 1932, Joy wrote to Sheehan praising the final script, but also offering the following suggestions: that it would be out of character for "Jane" to participate in the celebration of Mafeking Night; that not too much emphasis should be placed on the part played by American soldiers in the war because of some resentment in England due to the lateness of the American entry into the war and the credit assumed that America won the war; that final scenes of the virtual collapse of the world should not include gangster activities, as England is not afflicted by that problem; and that small bits of profanity, "various Lords, Hells, Damns," should be omitted because "the Code leaves us no loophole in this regard." On September 27, 1932, Sheehan replied to Joy, "We are following out your suggestions and appreciate very much your kind and complimentary expressions." Subsequently, Joy and Trotti resigned from the AMPP and joined Fox, Joy as a scenario editor, in charge with dealing with the Hays Office, and Trotti as a writer.
The studio, apparently, did not heed Joy's warning about profanity in the film. James C. Wingate, who replaced Joy as director of the Studio Relations Committee of the AMPP, noticed the use of "damn" once and "hell" twice when he viewed the film on December 14, 1932. In a letter to Hays, Wingate wrote that he was inclined to pass the film, noting an amendment to the Code, passed on December 2, 1931 after Hays and Joy approved the use of the word "hell" in Arrowsmith, which stated, "Only where they are required for development of plot or where their use is essential to the realistic presentation of a subject, are the less offensive expletives permitted." Hays replied that he would concur concerning the use of "hell" (which in the film was used in the expression "Hell of a lot"), but that he assumed the studio would take out the word "damn." After contacting Fox, Wingate reported to Hays that Lloyd said he could not eliminate the offensive words without serious damage to the picture and that a retake was impossible because the actor involved had already gone back to England. Wingate noted that he was confident that the Hollywood jury (a group convened to rule rule on decisions of the Hays Office that were not accepted by a studio, which was composed of three production executives not connected with the film in question) would not direct the elimination of the profanity. After the premiere in New York, Hays noted, "The use of the words 'hell' and 'damn' will not offend the audience, in my opinion." However, he worried that the use of these words in Cavalcade would set a precedent for other companies to use profanity in other circumstances, so he met with Fox president Sidney Kent, who vowed to reshoot the scene if the actors were available and, barring that, to see if the words could be slurred or the scene cut without much damage. Kent, on his arrival at the studio, met with Sheehan, Joy and Wingate, and decided, according to a memo of the conference, that the use of the phrases was not a violation of the Code. He stated that the phrases used in Cavalcade, "could not offend any person; and, after all, that was the real purpose of the Code. And as far as the use creating a precedent which might be followed by other producers is concerned, the best answer would be that anyone who could make a picture as good as Cavalcade might be justified in following the precedent." In August 1935, the film was given a PCA certificate after a shot was removed from the scene in the cabaret depicting 20th century life that showed, in the words of a Hays Office official, "two young women seated together, one holding the other's hand, conveying a suggestion of sex perversion." The state of Maryland censors had eliminated that shot in 1933 along with shots from the same sequence of a "young woman posing unnaturally, and two young men together, one giving the other a wrist watch."
Variety called this the first big film out of the Fox studio since the return of Winfield Sheehan. Various London and British landmarks, including Kensington Gardens, Trafalgar Square, Victoria Station, Tilbury Docks, the Gaity Theatre, the Caledonia Market and the beach at Margate, were recreated at Fox's Movietone City in Westwood, where, according to a premiere program, the film was produced in its entirety; some of these were left standing after production was completed as permanent sets. International Photographer called the London street set "one of the most elaborate sets ever seen in pictures." The legal files state that Mason Opera House in Los Angeles was used for filming the scenes of the operetta and that other scenes were shot at the Sausal-Redondo Ranch. According to a pressbook, the film had a nine-week shooting schedule, there were 40 principal parts, 150 speaking parts, more than 2,500 actors in one scene, 15,000 minor characters and 25,000 costumes. In his July 1, 1932 memo to Lloyd and Berkeley, Sheehan stated that he was "having assembled in New York the Zeppelin air-raids used in [The] Sky Hawk miniature over London on which we spent $300,000, and there are certainly 200 feet that will be great in Cavalcade while Jane is at home during the world war....I am sending for the scene of the traveling battle in [The] Cock-Eyed World which was very effective and which you May want to reproduce in traveling photography with the background of South Africa, with English and Boer soldiers." It is not known if footage from these two films, which were both produced by Fox in 1929, was actually used in Cavalcade. According to information in the legal records, some scenes from the French film Les croix de bois (Natan, 1932) was used in this film.
According to a pressbook for the film Charlie Chan's Courage, George Hadden, the dialogue director of Cavalcade, went to England to select players for this film. Three actresses from the London stage production, Una O'Connor, Irene Brown and Merle Tottenham, recreated their roles in the film. According to a news item, Binnie Barnes, who also was in the London production, was brought over by Fox, but she did not like the way her part had been altered for the film and ultimately turned it down. This was English stage actress Diana Wynyard's second film in Hollywood. Adele Crane, who sang the prima donna role in the operetta within-the-film, "Mirabelle," which was the first operetta written by Noël Coward, was the protégée of the famous soprano Nellie Melba. Edith Fellowes was originally cast for the role of "Edith Harris." The film opened at New York's Radio City Music Hall after its opening run at the Gaiety Theatre (where it had a two-a-day run at $1.65 for top seats), marking the only time in Radio City's history, according to a 1943 news item, that they deviated from their first-run policy. The news item stated that the film was Radio City's first real success establishing a record two-week run which stood until Little Women ran for three weeks in November 1933. Motion Picture Herald noted that more than fifty popular songs, national anthems, hymns, ballads and topical tunes were used in the film's musical score, including (in addition to those listed above under "Songs") "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar, Frédéric Chopin's "Marche Funebre," Johann Strauss's "The Blue Danube" and "The Emperor Waltz," Arthur Lange's "Chaos in Jazzland"; and "When Johnnie Comes Marching Home," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," "Good-By Dolly Gray," "Take Me Back to Yorkshire," "Madelon," "Mademoiselles from Armentieres," "Aupres de Ma Blonde," "Les Trois Capitaines," "I'll Make a Man of You," "Deutschland Uber Alles," "Marseillaise," "Yankee Doodle," "Over There," "La Brabanconne" and "Nearer My God to Thee."
A Hollywood Citizen-News article quotes from a telegram from Noël Coward to Winfield Sheehan: "I have just seen Cavalcade and I am deeply in your debt. I can sincerely say that the picture exceeded my greatest hope even after having read the New York notices. The whole story has been directed, adapted and played with such sensitive adherence to the text and spirit of my play that I am doubly thrilled at the response of both the press and public to your brilliant achievement. Please accept my heartfelt thanks and congratulations." The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Directing (Frank Lloyd) and Interior Decoration (William Darling). In addition, William Tummel was one of seven men selected as Best Assistant Director for his work at Fox, and Diana Wynyard was nominated for Best Actress. Hollywood Citizen-News reported that the film cost $1,300,000 to make, and according to modern sources, it produced a Fox record gross of $3,500,000, which was the second highest for sound films made up to that time. In 1955, a one-hour television production of Cavalcade was the premiere show in The 20th Century-Fox Hour, which was broadcast on CBS. The show, which starred Michael Wilding and Merle Oberon, was produced by Otto Land and directed by Lewis Allen, and used footage of historical events from the original film.
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States on Video February 3, 1993
Released in United States 1933
Released in United States on Video February 3, 1993
Re-released in United States on Video March 5, 1996
Re-released in United States on Video March 5, 1996