Oct 29, 2013

Diana Wynyard, Cavalcade

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In retrospect, Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade and Irene Dunne in Cimarron share a lot of similarities. Both were nominated for Best Actress and were likely only nominated because AMPAs liked their respective films a lot. Both actresses' vehicles are pretty dull and terrible, ranking pretty high up there among the all-time worst Best Picture winners, and both have an inconsistent presence in their films, with Dunne appearing more heavily in the latter half and Wynyard appearing more in the first half. Finally, they both give performances that, for lack of a better word, suck.

 photo ScreenShot2013-09-20at21810AM.jpgWynyard is very clearly a theatre actress--anyone with eyes can see that. However, unlike Helen Hayes, I'm not sure she was able to adapt to acting in front of the camera, instead her acting is very stagey, and as such hers is a performance that sticks out like a sore thumb. The way she talks, the way she moves, the way she stands, the way she stares--it all feels so uncomfortably inappropriate! Dramatic moments in the storyline see Jane staring offscreen towards the camera--perhaps just a little above the camera in one shot, and then a little to the side of the camera in another. She has a nice set of eyes that do a good job at staring off, but her face doesn't seem to exhibit any sort of emotion--it's like looking at someone who is really confused. Perhaps when you're performing on stage, the audience doesn't necessarily have to see what's going on with your face, but when you're pushed into a close-up on film you'd best be expressive, otherwise what we get is a look that says "Derp". Wynyard's style of acting is pretty dated (some of her mannerisms brings to mind Norma Shearer, and Wynyard even looks like her too, though is less magnetic of an actress), but in addition to this, there's not much pizzazz on her part, there's no fire in her when she's onscreen. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was simply in over her head and hadn't a familiarity with filmic acting at the time--Cavalcade was only her second film after all, and her first leading film role to boot.

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Yet the film doesn't exactly revolve around her either, despite her being the main character. She is there for most of the first act, does a sufficient job with a good moment here and there, and gradually as periods of time passes through the film the script has less and less to do with her. This isn't so much a film about Jane and the Marryot family as it is a prideful bukkake of British history that happens to have a lot of characters with story arcs to be manipulated for optimal drama. So Wynyard is doomed from the start--the script never gives her much of a chance, and she's confined to being worried about her husband to worried about her sons. But it's not as if she rises to the occasion--her answer to all this is staring as if there's no tomorrow! It's a very lifeless performance, which if you think about it, this could be a great metaphor given that Jane's world seems to be falling all around her. But watch Wynyard react to her son's death--another sullen stare off into space, and then one of the most ridiculous faints I've ever seen in a film--and it's obvious this is just a bland performance turned in by a beautiful lady who's not so sure what she's doing. It's not that the performance is a total disaster, but that's just it--this is work that's not exactly good but not yet veering into atrociousness. It's just questionably bland and uninspired and kind of makes you wonder, "What's the Point?" (Then again, the same question could be asked about Cavalcade's existence.)


  1. Agree, but looking back at her performance, I might even consider a lesser grade...

    1. Mary Pickford is my standard to which I measure how bad a certain performance is. As bland and insignificant as she was, there were moments I thought she was adequate, and I'm not sure I feel Wynyard is on par with Pickford in terms of overall horridness...