Okay, someone at Fox Home Video has fallen asleep at the controls because Irving Cumming’s Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) is NOT a musical – so billed on its cover art and as part of the Alice Faye Collection Vol. II. Rather, the film is supposed to be a loving portrait of the early days of movie-making in California. Unhappy circumstance that, as an entertainment, the film tends to fall apart into turgid recreations of actual events we remember more fondly elsewhere in the cinema firmament.
Based on an idea from Lou Breslow, the screenplay by Ernest Pascal takes the fictional character of Michael Linnett Connors (Don Ameche) and runs amuck in visualizing him as an all-in-one movie mogul who basically created the film industry single-handedly.
At varying points in the screenplay, Mike takes on the flavor and coloring of a Mack Sennett, Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer and even, Darryl F. Zanuck (the real man who discovered Rin-Tin-Tin). However, in fusing all of these great men into one, Linnett’s humanity evaporates with a machine-like precision: his only love being the movies.
Unhappy circumstance for Molly Adair Hayden (Alice Faye) who long suffers in her unrequited desire to have Mike take notice of her as anything but a film star. When first Mike and Molly meet, she is a Broadway understudy who has had a breakthrough performance after the star gets sick.
Mike is in the audience that night and, with buddy Dave Springold (J. Edward Bromberg) the two men cajole Molly into accepting a contract in California. Molly is skeptical, of course; a curiosity confirmed after she reluctantly makes the journey to the coast and learns that Mike is in fact an office boy aspiring to greatness within the fledgling movie industry.
Nevertheless, Molly is a big hit in pictures when she accidentally takes a pie in the kisser from Buster Keaton in her first silent short. Soon, Mike is brimming with ideas. He creates the spectacle of the ‘bathing beauty’, then moves into the realm of slapstick with Ben Turpin and later, The Keystone Cops. Finally, Mike launches into the epic a la Cecile B. DeMille.
What is particularly frustrating about the film is its rather slap-dash plot structure; moving through an endless series of vignettes depicting Hollywood’s early history with only Mike’s unbounded determination to act as our narrative coupling. Having Alice Faye in a movie where she does not utilize her great singing talent is, frankly, a travesty.
Throughout, one waits in baited anticipation for these turgid snippets and sound bytes to dissolve into a ballad or dance routine from the elegant Ms. Faye. Honestly, with so many Faye performances still absent on DVD, why this film was chosen ahead of others to be included in a ‘musical box set’ remains a mystery to this reviewer.
Fox Home Video’s DVD is a disappointment. Though restoration efforts have managed to more closely align the mis-registered 3 strip Technicolor negative, the color palette is faded and continues to be slightly out of focus on several glaring occasions. Furthermore, the spectrum of color does not hold up to other Technicolor films from this vintage (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind).
Presumably, the original camera negative to this feature no longer exists, since colors are clumpy and flat throughout. Flesh tones are a pasty pink or orange. Fine detail is lost for the most part, particularly in facial features. Contrast levels seem to be a tad too low as well. The audio is presented at an adequate listening level.
Extras include 3 featurettes (one on the film and two more on Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle), a Movietone short, restoration comparison and advertising/stills galleries.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)