Cavalcade. 1933. USA. Directed by Frank Lloyd. Screenplay by Reginald Berkeley, based on a play by Noël Coward. With Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, Una O’Connor, Herbert Mundin, Beryl Mercer. Digital restoration by Walt Disney Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, with the consultancy of the Academy Film Archive and lab work by Cineric (image) and Audio Mechanics (audio); courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios. North American premiere. 112 min.
In his heyday, playwright Noël Coward was so popular that in 1933 alone there were four film adaptations of his work. While Ernst Lubitsch’s subversive comedy Design for Living is likely the most recognized nowadays, the family epic Cavalcade was a big hit for Fox, winning Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Director, and Best Picture (for the latter category, it is the last one to be available in restored condition). The original staging of Coward’s 1931 play ran for a year in London; however, due to its size—25 scene changes, up to 500 people on stage at times, along with horses and double-decker buses—the production has not been revived much.
From New Year’s Eve in 1899 to New Year’s Day in 1933, the lives of the upper-class Marryots and their erstwhile servants, the Bridgeses—a set-up familiar to viewers of beloved television series like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey—intertwine in this sentimental story of Mother England and of mothers “whose love tempers both fortune and disaster.” This very British story was not made for the silver screen in its home country, but instead was exported to Hollywood, albeit primarily starring actors from the United Kingdom. The film premiered on April 15, 1933, the 21st anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, one of several mammoth moments in British history experienced by the film’s protagonists over the span of 30 years, along with the death of Queen Victoria, and World War I.
This restoration, spearheaded by Walt Disney Pictures in partnership with the Film Foundation, utilizes the nitrate elements that MoMA’s first film curator, Iris Barry, acquired in 1935.