Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Alice Faye, Don Ameche,
J. Edward Bromberg, Alan Curtis, Buster Keaton
Director: Irving Cummings
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Black & white and color, 1.33:1 full-frame
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: Hollywood Cavalcade: The Silent Dream, Buster Keaton: Head Over Heels in Hollywood, Hello Roscoe: The Fate of Fatty Arbuckle, outtakes, Movietone newsreel, restoration comparison, two galleries
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2008
“Why don’t you try getting a pie in your face?”
Film *** ½
The pioneering years of Hollywood silent cinema had scarcely concluded by the 1930’s before a sense of nostalgia began to develop around this early period of filmmaking. At 20th-Century Fox, studio mogul Darryl Zanuck decided to revisit the silent “flickers” by way of a star vehicle for the studio’s leading lady of music, Alice Faye. Originally, this film was to have been a musical, but Zanuck eventually felt that the premise of a musical about the silent era was paradoxical. As a result, the film was re-imagined as a comedy, Hollywood Cavalcade. No singing in the rain for now.
That is not to say Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) is an inferior Alice Faye film. Despite an absence of songs for the musical star, the film made up in abundance with slapstick and physical humor what it lacked in showstopping numbers. To ensure authenticity, none other than Mack Sennett, founder of the famous Keystone Studios, was brought on as technical advisor. Perhaps his influence reached beyond simply the comic portions of the film, as Hollywood Cavalcade is partially inspired by the real-life romance between Mack Sennett and his former Keystone leading lady, Mabel Normand.
Hollywood Cavalcade takes place in the years between 1913 and 1927 and follows the progression of silent cinema through the rise of slapstick comedy and epic extravaganzas. There is also, fittingly enough, a nod towards The Jazz Singer, the landmark sound film most frequently acknowledged as the beginning of the end for silent films.
As Hollywood Cavalcade opens, dramatic Broadway actress Molly Adair (Alice Faye) has just been offered a Hollywood contract by Mike Connors (Don Ameche), a prop boy-turned-director. Under his enthusiastic tutelage, Molly develops into a genuine comedy star, even if she is the reluctant recipient of too many pies in the face for the sake of laughs. In spite of the frequent onscreen indignations thrown at Molly thanks to Mike’s never-ending quest for a bigger or better gag, Molly begins to fall in love with her mentor. Unfortunately, the relationship is somewhat one-sided, as Mike is more interested in the craft of moviemaking than in wooing his lovely protégée. Only later, when a dashing young co-star sweeps Molly off her feet, does Mike begin to realize the consequences of his indifference, but all too late. That said, the film still follows the standard romantic pattern of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-again.
Soap opera aspects aside, Hollywood Cavalcade offers a parade of some of the silent era’s finest comic stars. Watch for special appearances by Buster Keaton, Ben Turpin, Chester Conklin, and the Keystone Kops! I will not reveal all the cameos, but there are certainly plenty in this film! There are also acknowledgements to D.W. Griffith-style blockbusters and Rudolph Valentino-style romantic melodramas.
Hollywood Cavalcade was Alice Faye’s first non-musical film and her first comedy. While the film has its share of dramatic tension, the comic highlights steal the show and demonstrate Alice Faye's hitherto mostly-untapped gift for comedy. Fox’s studio mogul Zanuck eventually seized upon the star’s flair for comedy and in her subsequent films would exploit not only Alice Faye's vocal talents but also her comic timing.
Hollywood Cavalcade is presented in its original full-frame format. The film has undergone lengthy restoration and looks quite clean now with a reasonably sharp image and the reliably gorgeous colors of the Technicolor process. Cinematically, Hollywood Cavalcade is noteworthy as being the first major film to be shot with two entirely different film stocks - one specifically for the black & white sequences and another for the Technicolor sequences.
Among the black & white interludes, the Keystone Kops short is one of the film’s highlights. Folks back in those days still remembered how to make a funny silent film, and this particular passage looks and feels just like a real Mack Sennett Keystone comedy!
Audio ** ½
Audio is in English monaural. Nothing particularly fancy here, just a serviceable soundtrack cleaned of clicks and hisses accumulated over the years.
Hollywood Cavalcade is available individually or as part of the Alice Faye Collection, Volume 2 box set.
There are three short featurettes on this disc. The early screen stars did not always fare well after the demise of silent cinema, and in Buster Keaton: Head Over Heels in Hollywood (9 min.), we learn about Keaton’s early years, his mid-career slump, and his slow resurgence by the time of Hollywood Cavalcade. The featurette Hello Roscoe: The Fate of Fatty Arbuckle (5 min.) briefly discusses the sad fate of a man once considered the top comedian in all of Hollywood. Hollywood Cavalcade: The Silent Dream (12 min.) is the most substantial featurette on this disc; the first half deals with the production of the film and the real-life relationship between Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, while the second half of this featurette focuses on Alice Faye’s film career, including clips from many of her most well-known roles.
The remaining extras are all quite short. There are silent outtakes from a pie fight featuring Buster Keaton and Alice Faye. A quick restoration comparison featurette summaries the restoration process with a side-by-side comparison of the initial 2008 film transfer and final film restoration, which looks cleaner with better color correction. Lastly, this disc offers a vintage Movietone newsreel about the film's premiere, an ad gallery of three lobby posters, and a stills gallery of thirteen publicity photos.
Hollywood Cavalcade revisits the early days of Tinseltown, when madcap mayhem and slapstick comedy were all the rage. Alice Faye fans will enjoy this film, even if she doesn’t sing a single note.