Adapted from Noel Coward’s play, Fox’s 1933 film adaptation of Cavalcade went on to win three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Lloyd) and Best Art Direction (William S. Darling). Having only been made previously available on DVD in Fox’s 75th Anniversary Collection along with 74 other films, Cavalcade is now available in its first standalone release since the 1998 VHS. More importantly, last August 6’s home video release of Cavalcade also marks the film’s debut on Blu-ray as part of the 20th Century Fox Studio Classics collection!
This astonishing epic follows two British families over the course of three decades: the upper class Marryots and their one-time servants, the Bridges. Skipping years and years at a time, as if viewing a highlight reel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we join these families for their most rapturous and heartbreaking moments, as their households are devastated by tragedies both personal and global. They send their men off to war during the Second Boer War and again during World War I; they, along with the rest of the British Empire, feel the pangs of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901; and they even lose loved ones on the Titanic (although not necessarily in that order, of course).
Cavalcade is an example of the studio system at its most ambitious. It features 150 speaking roles, required up to 2500 performers for any given scene, and in its broad scope indeed tried to assert itself as the “Picture of the Generation.” And while I certainly was not alive during the era in which the film takes place, I can see looking back on this film that it might well give us a fine notion of what life was like for those who did live back then, especially with its dual focus on upper and lower class British citizens alike.
Cavalcade makes its way to Blu-ray as a result of Fox’s first-of-its-kind “Voice Your Choice” campaign, which allowed film lovers the opportunity to choose which classic films from the 1930s through the 1960s would be digitally restored and transferred to Blu-ray for the first time. The restoration of Calvalcade for the Blu-ray release was created using the only existing elements available from the Academy Film Archive. And this is therefore the best transfer of Cavalcade you are likely to ever see. It’s surely not perfect by any means. After all, the elements available to the studio for this restoration are potentially 80 years old, and they show it. Although no doubt every effort was made to clean up the image, you can’t escape the occasional scratch or damage that film stock inevitably accrues through usage over time. That said, Cavalcade still looks fantastic here, with clarity necessarily far surpassing that of its previous standalone release on VHS.
What’s more, Cavalcade is not just available here for the first time on Blu-ray. The Studio Classics release is in fact presented as a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, so even those without a Blu-ray player can enjoy the film. By way of special features, the Blu-ray includes commentary by film historian Richard Schickel and a vintage clip about the success of Cavalcade from an old Fox Movietone newsreel.