Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1934 - The White Parade

Finally back in New York now, just in time for the snow. Sure, it's pretty, but after spending a few weeks in Australia and then Southern California, I'll take warmth over pretty any day. While in Los Angeles, I got the chance to visit the UCLA Film Archive again. Almost three years after my first visit there to watch Skippy and East Lynne, I went back to view another title exclusively held on this campus.

Hence, the first nominee to be reviewed in the behemoth Best Picture contest of 1934 is...

The White Parade
Irving Cummings
Rian James, Jesse L. Lasky, Sonya Levien, Ernest Pascal
(based on the novel by Rian James)
Loretta Young, John Boles, Dorothy Wilson, Muriel Kirkland, Astrid Allwyn, Frank Conroy, Jane Darwell, Sara Haden
Academy Awards:
2 nominations
0 wins

The copy of The White Parade that is available for general viewing at the UCLA Film Archive, while in DVD format, is not exactly in pristine condition. The DVD has been created directly from the surviving film reels, so in addition to the expected film artefacts and glitches caused by missing frames, there is a somewhat distracting fuzzy image throughout. Humorously, the DVD contains the entire footage from each reel, including some frames with the words "End of Reel" emblazoned in large text.

Despite a title that sounds like the sequel to The Birth of a Nation, The White Parade actually refers to the nursing profession (even though none of my nurse friends had ever heard that expression before). A group of young women converge on a teaching hospital to spend three years in training to be nurses. The story mainly focuses on June Arden (Young), who in an attempt to fit in with the popular girls, pretends to be the fiancee of the wealthy Ronald Hall III (Boles) after seeing his picture in the society pages. When one of the other girls questions her, she agrees to meet with Hall to prove it. Luckily for her, the two actually fall for each other, and so the deception morphs into reality. But as June approaches the end of her training, she has to decide whether she wants to pursue a life of caring for sick people or a life with a family. (Apparently, in the 1930s, it was impossible to have both. Again, my nurse friends might have something to say about that.)

Initially, it's a little tough to keep track of all the characters. The opening scenes introduce us to a number of nursing students all at once - including a largish woman who everyone casually refers to as "Pudgy" with seemingly no awareness of any potential offense - so it's difficult to retain interest without a singular story to follow. Fortunately, it doesn't take too long for June to clearly emerge as our heroine and the story finds its feet and becomes rather involving.

The script is witty in only that way that 1930s films can be, bolstered by elements of screwball comedy. And speaking of elements common to the 1930s, you won't be surprised to hear sexist attitudes from the men, as when Ronald attempts to persuade June to give up nursing to be his wife, explaining that it's just as honorable to serve one as it is to serve many. Surprisingly, though, the conclusion defies the stereotype and June sacrifices married life for her career.

One further criticism is the lack of music scoring in the film. I hesitate to bring that up in case it's just a matter of the score never being included on the surviving print. Perhaps the original theatrical release contained more music. If not, it seems like a missed opportunity. Several scenes felt awkwardly silent.

Loretta Young (pictured, with John Boles) as the strong-willed June delivers a brilliant performance, charming and passionate. You won't find a lot of other well-known faces (which may explain why it's never received a commercial home video release). Perhaps the most recognisable performer after Young is Jane Darwell (the matriarch from The Grapes of Wrath) as the nurses' guardian inexplicably nicknamed Sailor.


  1. Like East Lynne, I won't be able to view this one, so I was happy to read your take on it, Matt. (It was more favorable than The New York Times). I checked the crew credits and IMDB lists a musical director and three other musicians, but they went uncredited for some reason. Maybe the director didn't like what he heard and removed the score??

    They'll probably be a few more best picture nominees that I won't be able to find, but thankfully, I should get to see those that probably will be in contention for the top prize. Turner Classic Movies is showing six of them, but three are in February, during their 30 Days of Oscar programming.

  2. Love that you got to the UCLA Archives. I was amazed at how tucked away they are... so many gems hidden within their vaults! :)

  3. the only way to watch this is to go to ucla archives? anywhere online copy to watch this?

  4. Unfortunately, there has been no home video release of The White Parade (and likely never will be) and I don't even think TCM has a broadcast version at their disposal. So, yep, UCLA is pretty much your only option if you want to see it.

  5. Surprisingly you have many Best Picture nominees to go. I have 7 left - but know that one will never be seen (Lost Films)

  6. Hi Matt, I'm Stef from France and like you I have decided to watch every nominated movie, and I have now 7 movies left. The White parade is one of those I was pretty much convinced I would never see. But your post gives me hope: is it possible to access the UCLA archives? I mean, I sometimes go to LA, if I go to UCLA, as a nobody, am I allowed to just get in and watch it, or is it something that is usually not open to the public? Thanks in advance for you answer :-)

  7. Hi Stef,

    Wow, only 7 movies left! That's great. I've been slowing down quite a lot lately, so sometimes it feels like I'm never going to get there...

    Anyway, the UCLA archives are technically only available for research projects, but I submitted a request based on this blog and they let me in to view the movies I wanted. You just have to email them in advance so they can get the films ready.

    Here's a link to the instructions:

    Just scroll down to the question: "How do I request items to view for research?"

    Good luck!


  8. Hi Matt, thanks so much for that. I will definitely do that, I cannot give up so close to the finish line. As I also only have 8 movies left for best actress, I will try to combine it, for the rarest ones.
    Love the blog, great idea, I love reading your opinions; I don't always agree but do more often than not ;-) Keep up the good work, Stef