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Cavalcade (1933): The Port of Los Angeles becomes Noel Cowards’ England

March 12, 2014

By Nicholas Beyelia0522-B Film Shoot at Berth 145, October 19, 1932. Los Angeles Harbor Department Historical Archives, Materials Testing Laboratory Photograph Collection, 0-522B

A couple of weeks ago, I had the task of identifying this image from our collection. It’s a film shoot and the only information available was that the shoot took place in 1932 and it involved the Fox Film Corporation. After some creative searching, I identified the movie in question: Cavalcade (1933). For those that are unfamiliar with the film, Cavalcade is an adaptation of a 1931 Noël Coward play that focused on the lives of a family in England.  It was directed by Frank Lloyd and featured English actors Diana Wynyard and Clive Brook.  The story has been regarded as the prototype for the popular television shows Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. To the best of my knowledge, Cavalcade is the only movie made at the Port that has the distinction of being given an Academy Award® for Best Picture.


On October 19, 1932 Fox Film Corporation (later 20th Century Fox) shot exteriors for the film at Berth 145-146 in Wilmington. The scene featured a crowd of extras seeing soldiers off as they were being transported to the Boer War in South Africa.  Any indications that the events took place outside of England were completely obscured: the camera was kept low so Port of Los Angeles signs would not be seen and several false structures were built for the shoot.  The terminal where the scene was filmed was newly constructed and was awaiting a permanent tenant; within a matter of months the Grace and Calmar Steamship lines occupied the space.

Some Close-ups: Fox Film Trucks: 0522-B - Copy1 A glimpse of extras in uniform: 0522-B - Copy2 See the scene for yourself:

Cavalcade premiered in January, 1933 (wide release in April) to great acclaim.  New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall wrote that the film “is a most affecting and impressive picture…” and, in addition to the Best Picture prize, Cavalcade also won Academy Awards® for and Direction (Lloyd) and Art Direction (William S. Darling). The Academy Award is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences-©A.M.P.A.S.®


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