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Kings Row (1942), Sam Wood's epic tale of life in a smallturn-of-the-century town, begins on a deceptively optimistic note: abillboard that promotes the Midwestern hamlet as "A Good Town. A GoodClean Town. A Good Town to Live In and a Good Place to Raise YourChildren." Kings Row is a eulogy for the well-mannered lifestyleof the Victorian Era. "A whole way of life. A way of gentleness and honorand dignity," one character laments, "These things are going... and theymay never come back to this world."
But the film gradually reveals that all is not idyllic in this sleepyAmerican town. Beneath the film's surface of quaint nostalgia andsmall-town melodrama appear signs of widespread malaise, revealing thecommunity of Kings Row as a melting pot of gossip, jealousy, mentalillness, possessive parents, class-rivalry, murder and suicide.
Robert Cummings stars as Parris Mitchell, an ambitious youth who begins thestudy of psychiatry under mentor Dr. Alexander Tower (Claude Rains).Parris's pal, Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan), is a small-town dandy whochooses to live off his trust fund while romancing several local girls,including Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman), daughter of the town physician(Charles Coburn). The propriety of Louise and Drake's relationship iscarefully guarded by Mrs. Gordon (Dame Judith Anderson) who seeks topreserve her daughter's reputation, even at the expense of herhappiness.
Best remembered as the grim Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock'sRebecca (1940), Anderson was perfectly cast as Mrs. Gordon. Withher high starched collars and elaborate lace finery, she comes to representthe Victorian mindset at its most repressive and inflexible.
Eventually the Gordons' bottled-up resentment toward Drake is released whenthe young lothario is injured in a train accident and the kindly small-towndoctor spitefully amputates both of the boy's legs. This tragic plot twistprovided Reagan with the greatest acting opportunity of his career, and thelines he uttered upon discovering his mutilated body later became the titleof his autobiography, "Where's the rest of me?"
It was initially believed that Henry Bellamann's novel could never bepassed by the censors. Joseph Breen, of the Hays Office, wrote theproducers that "To attempt to translate such a story to the screen, eventhough it be re-written to conform to the provisions of the Production Codeis, in our judgment, a very questionable undertaking from the standpointof the good and welfare of this industry." Thanks to the resourcefulnessof screenwriter Casey Robinson (who judiciously removed the novel'ssuggestions of incest, homosexuality and euthanasia), Kings Row wasfinally able to reach the screen without sacrificing the integrity of itstroubling message, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, BestDirector and James Wong Howe's "Midwestern Gothic" cinematography.
Director: Sam Wood
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Casey Robinson
Based on the novel by Henry Bellamann
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Production Design: William Cameron Menzies
Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cast: Ann Sheridan (Randy Monoghan), Robert Cummings (Parris Mitchell),Ronald Reagan (Drake McHugh), Claude Rains (Dr. Alexander Tower), BettyField (Cassandra Tower), Charles Coburn (Dr. Henry Gordon), Judith Anderson(Mrs. Harriet Gordon), Nancy Coleman (Louise Gordon).
BW-127m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Bret Wood