Cavalcade appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. While perfectly adequate for an 80-year-old movie, the transfer never became anything special.
Like all parts of the picture, sharpness varied. Much of the film looked acceptably distinctive and defined, but exceptions occurred. Though the flick never turned mushy, some noticeable softness came out at times. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Given the high level of grain, I didn’t suspect any overly zealous digital noise reduction.
As one might expect for an old movie like this, source flaws were a concern. The film exhibited examples of specks, grit, marks, scratches, lines and spots. I didn’t think these were excessive for such an old release, but the film certainly could’ve looked much cleaner.
Blacks were erratic but usually came across as reasonably dense; only occasional shots looked a bit inky. Shadows tended to appear slightly opaque and could be somewhat tough to discern, though not badly so. Enough good came out here to warrant a “C”, but I can’t say I thought the transfer was better than that.
I found the monaural soundtrack of Cavalcade was similarly passable. Speech showed metallic, thin tones but always remained intelligible and lacked much edginess. Music popped up sporadically. As with most movies of the era, this one didn’t use a lot of score, though a long musical sequence meant Cavalcade had more material of this sort than most of its peers. When we heard music, it seemed a little bright and shrill, but those elements seemed adequate for their age.
Effects fell into the same vein. They lacked much distortion but failed to deliver a lot of life or vivacity. As with the other components, they were perfectly acceptable given their age but they didn’t rise above that level. I noticed some hiss and background noise at times, though not to a heavy degree. Again, this was a fairly typical mix for a movie from 1933.
Two extras show up here, and we open with an audio commentary from film historian Richard Schickel. He offers a running, screen-specific look at the original play and its adaptation, cast and crew, story/character areas, some historical tidbits and interpretation of the film.
Like most Schickel commentaries, this one provides a consistently inconsistent experience. At his best, Schickel gives us good insights into the film’s era, including notes about Hollywood and the world at large.
At worst, however, Schickel goes silent too much and tends to narrate the movie. Those tendencies become more obvious in the flick’s second half; dead air dominates and useful tidbits seem few and far between. If you screen this piece, don’t expect much, as it’s a typical erratic Schickel commentary.
A Fox Movietone News piece called “Cavalcade Wins First Honors” lasts one minute. In this, director Frank Lloyd congratulates producer Winfield Sheehan and actors Clive Brook and Diana Wynyard on the movie’s Best Picture nomination. The short’s title seems odd since it doesn’t appear to come from the film’s victory. Whatever the case, it’s an inconsequential trifle, though maybe if Schickel watched it, he might learn the actor’s name isn’t “Brooks”.
A second disc provides a DVD copy of the film. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray.
I don’t dislike Cavalcade enough to classify it as one of the absolute worst Oscar winners, but it’s still much closer to the bottom than to the top. The movie comes with admirable ambition but fails in terms of execution, as it seems slow, plodding and forgettable. The Blu-ray provides mediocre picture and audio along with a mediocre commentary. Cavalcade deserves a look due to its Oscar pedigree, but viewers shouldn’t expect much from it.