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