Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) dir. Irving Cummings
Starring: Alice Faye, Don Ameche, J. Edward Bromberg, Buster Keaton
Studio-era Hollywood has always done films about Hollywood well. From “Singing in the Rain” to “Sunset Boulevard” tinsel town could always take its own pulse and both lampoon and celebrate itself in the name of entertainment. A great example of this comes from Fox’s new Alice Faye Collection Vol 2 – “Hollywood Cavalcade”.
Who is Alice Faye you ask? And why does she deserve not one by two volumes of a box set? Even though I have an interest in classic Hollywood, I admittedly was unaware of these ‘Alice Faye’ pictures.
Faye was a beloved protégé of Darryl F. Zanuck, the mega-mogul who ran 20th Century Fox studios. Faye could play a variety of leading lady types – wisecracking show girls to wholesome motherly figures. Watching “Hollywood Cavalcade”, a lavish Zanuck production in Technicolor, it’s easy to see why she was such a star. Though she was not blessed with the alluring good looks of a Rita Hayworth or Marlene Dietrich, her chief asset was an infectious Shirley Temple-like charm.
In “Hollywood Cavalcade” Faye plays Molly Adair, a Broadway star recruited by aspiring film director Mike Linnett Connors (Don Ameche) to go to Hollywood. But this is 1913 and before ‘moving pictures’ became the top of the acting hierarchy. Then Broadway was the pinnacle of stardom. So it’s not an easy decision. Molly, lured by Connors’ dreams of grandeur and his steadfast belief in the power of motion pictures, takes a risk and makes the jump.
Once in Hollywood Molly acts against the greats of silent film, including Buster Keaton. Over the years and after a series of successful pictures Molly and Mike become a powerful team as star and director. Molly falls in love with Mike, but Mike is so career-oriented he refuses to acknowledge the advances. Eventually Molly moves on to marry her co-star Nicky Hayden (Alan Curtis), which drives Mike mad and threatens both their dreams of achieving lengthy careers in Hollywood.
“Hollywood Cavalcade’s” plot goes from the usual highs and lows of celebrity stardom. Where the film scores its points is its self-examination of Hollywood. We get to see reenacted with intelligent insight the creativity of the silent era and how studios made stars from actors who couldn’t speak. We also get to see some of the last performances of the great silent stars, specifically Buster Keaton and the Keystone Kops who appear as themselves. In a number of film-within-a-film sequences co-director Malcolm St. Clair, using authentic old-style shooting methods and under the guidance of the great Max Sennett, directs some great comic moments of slapstick and physical comedy from the silent era.
The sad footnote to Alice Faye’s career was a public dispute with Zanuck, who claimed her lead role in “Fallen Angel” was cut out down to make room for Zanuck’s latest ‘protégé’ Linda Darnell – a real life Hollywood love triangle which strangely parallels the events in “Hollywood Cavalcade”. Unfortunately Faye’s story didn’t have the happy ending of Molly’s. Zanuck blackballed Faye for breach of contract and essentially ended her career as a leading lady.
But Faye now has her two box sets to be remembered by. And “Hollywood Cavalcade” is a great time capsule of this tumultuous period from burgeoning art form to its emergence as the ‘dream factory’. Enjoy.
“Hollywood Cavalcade is available from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment