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Five children in an apparently ideal American small town find their lives changing as the years pass near the turn of the century in 1900. Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan), both of whom have lost their parents, are best friends; Parris dreams of becoming a doctor, studying under the father of his sweetheart Cassandra Tower (Betty Field), while Drake plans on becoming a local businessman when he receives his full inheritance - juggling girlfriends in the meantime. As they become adults, the revelations of local secrets threaten to ruin their hopes and dreams. —scgary66
safe deposit boxno abnormal brother sister relationshiptensionann sheridan billed above the titlerobert cummings billed above the title180 more
Behind half closed curtains
An interesting TV documentary on the composer Korngold drew me back to "Kings Row" Although I don't find his scores as arresting as those of Raksin or as immediately identifiable as Rozsa or Herrmann (Korngold's seem to be in a rather amorphous Richard Strauss style), I love his music to "Kings Row" which has a glorious lyrical sweep particularly in the credit section overture. Another reason for watching "Kings Row" today, although a minor one, is to see the only star who has made it to the White House in his best role and to marvel at how he could have done it - get to the White House I mean. Let's face it, Ronald Reagan was no great shakes as an actor but he was certainly at his best here, delivering his great and almost prophetic line, "Where's the rest of me?" as a cry of despair that certainly convinces. However, Korngold and Reagan are not the main reasons that I sometimes stray back to this film. The fact is that I am a sucker for Golden Age Hollywood melodrama and I find "Kings Row" just about the darkest of the genre and certainly one of the most fascinating. I was once taken to task for calling it "the greatest of all bad films" and although I still stand by this, as it is after all pure hokum, I would rather watch it than a multitude of intrinsically finer films I could name. In a way it was ahead of its time dealing with come pretty awful things such as inherited insanity, terminal cancer and sadistic medical practices in a way you would think would be a turn-off in the commercial cinema. Someone will no doubt put me right but I cannot recall the word "cancer" being spoken in a film before "Rebecca" and "Kings Row". Admittedly you do not see any of the gruesome goings on, just the medicines and syringes beside the cancer victim's bed and those faces half glimpsed at curtained windows of an insane woman and a doctor about to cut into a patient's ulcerated leg without chloroform. Even the famous leg amputation scene takes place off-stage, cutting off (excuse the dreadful pun) just after the ubiquitous Hollywood call for "lots of hot water". None the less there is sufficient balance between the dreadful happenings and human goodness to turn the film into the popular success it undoubtedly was in the early '40s, the mutual love between the hero (Robert Cummings) and his grandmother, the devotion through times good and bad of Ann Sheridan to Ronald Reagan and the unassailable friendship between Cummings and Reagan. The passing of seasons and years is poetically conveyed and there is even one great moment of transformation when a boy crosses a stile and climbs down the other side a man. What an extraordinary mixed bag it all is! Even the dialogue comes up with a few surprises. In what other Hollywood film of that time would one character - Claude Rains as the good doctor - say to another - his pupil, "I seem to be in a vein of epigramatic sententiousness today"! I remember one of my sons discovering "Kings Row" in his early twenties and declaring it one of the most wonderful films he had ever seen. I countered this by showing him what I feel to be the greatest film ever about family intrigue set in turn of the century small town America, Wyler's "The Little Foxes". To my dismay he did not stay the course. It did not take me long to realise why. "Foxes" is all about adults scheming and tormenting one another. For my son there was no point of identification. "Kings Row" on the other hand celebrates youthful camaraderie with liberal doses of the "youth-love-death" cocktail. It was no surprise that he went on to love "Dead Poets Society" but has expressed no wish to attempt "The Little Foxes" again.
- Sep 13, 2003
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