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Kings Row (1942) - Plot Summary Poster

(1942)

Plot

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Summaries

  • The dark side and hypocrisy of provincial American life is seen through the eyes of five children as they grow to adulthood at the turn-of-the-century.

  • 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 and Drake, both of whom have lost their parents, are best friends; Parris dreams of becoming a doctor, studying under the father of his sweetheart Cassie, 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.

  • Forbidden desires and long-suppressed family secrets are part of the dark underbelly of provincial life in middle-America at the turn-of-the-century as seen through the eyes of five children growing into adulthood. One of them, Parris Mitchell, pursues his interest in the newly emerging field of psychiatry and uses his knowledge to overcome tragic personal losses as well as the hypocrisy and bigotry of his small town home in order to help his childhood friends.

  • Boyhood friends Parris Mitchell and Drake McHugh have grown up together in the town of Kings Row. Parris wants to be a doctor and his grandmother arranges for him to be to be tutored by Dr. Alexander Tower, something of a recluse who seems to have no patients. Parris knew his daughter Cassie when they were young but Dr. Tower home-schooled her from a young age. Now young adults, they fall madly in love but tragedy strikes just as Parris is about to set off for Vienna to begin medical school. Drake is a happy go lucky sort, handsome with many of the local girls chasing after him and he them. He's particularly fond of Louise Gordon, daughter of the town's other doctor, Henry Gordon. Her parents dislike the young Drake and refuse him permission to call on their daughter, which drives Louise to the brink of madness. When Drake has an accident, Dr. Gordon exacts a sadistic revenge leaving it to Parris and another childhood friend, Randy Monaghan, to pull Drake back from the edge.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • KIngs Row in the 1890's is a good clean place to live and raise a family, according to a sign at the edge of town. Parris Mitchell was orphaned at an early age and lives with his grandmother. His best friend is Drake McHugh, who is also orphaned and lives with his aunt. His other best friend is Cassandra Tower. Cassie's father is a doctor but does not practice his profession. Her mother is rarely seen and spends all her time in an upstairs bedroom. After school one day, Cassie and Parris go swimming in the pond, stripping to their underwear. But Cassie says they shouldn't do it again as her strict father would take a switch to her.

    Parris agrees to come to Cassie's birthday party, only Louise Gordon, daughter of the town doctor, is having her own party the same day. Only a few children show up at Cassie's party. She is in tears and Parris tries to comfort her. But she asks him to leave. He sees Mrs. Tower looking out her window and tries to talk to her. But Dr. Tower intercepts him and says Mrs. Tower is too ill to see anyone. Parris politely thanks him for the party and shakes hands. Not long after, Cassie reveals that her father is taking her out of school. Parris doesn't understand why and neither does Cassie, who says her father is going to teach her himself.

    Parris and Drake see a younger boy sitting on the front steps of his home, crying loudly. When they ask what's wrong, the boy says that Dr. Gordon is going to operate on his father, who has ulcers on his legs. Just then the children hear a terrible scream coming from the house. Because his father has heart disease, according to Dr. Gordon, anesthesia cannot be used. Parris and Drake run away when they hear another scream.

    Years pass and Parris is home from college. While taking a walk in the countryside, he runs into Drake driving a buggy. His passengers are the Ross sisters, Jinny and Poppy. They have bad reputations and Parris turns down an offer from Drake to join them. He is going to see Dr. Tower, who is now a widower. Before he can study medicine in Vienna, as his grandmother wishes, he must pass the entrance examinations. Dr. Tower has agreed to tutor him. When he arrives at the Tower place, Cassie lets him in. She seems almost frightened and points him to her father's study. Dr. Tower is barely cordial and instructs Parris to use the outside door in the study to come and go so he won't have to go through the house. Parris wants to ask about Cassie and why her father won't let her go anywhere. But he loses his nerve.

    Parris comes to know Dr. Tower and finds him to be intelligent and wise. The tutoring is hard and Parris spends many nights studying. Drake continues to see the Ross girls but confides that he is really in love with Louise Gordon. But her parents disapprove because he is a playboy. His aunt has died and left him a trust fund but he has too much time on his hands. Drake decides to confront Louise's parents and insists that Parris come along. Louise loves Drake but is reluctant to marry him partly because of the Ross girls and partly because he isn't wealthy. After a nasty scene with her parents, Drake storms out.

    Unknown to Parris, his grandmother is suffering from cancer. However, he knows she is ill. Dr. Gordon has a bad reputation for performing unnecessary surgery. Parris consults the town attorney, Colonel Skeffington, to ask if there is any truth to the rumors about Dr. Gordon. If so, he doesn't want him treating his grandmother. The Colonel assures Parris that as far as his grandmother is concerned, Dr. Gordon is acting in a correct manner.

    Parris sees Cassie several times and knows how unhappy she is, but she won't tell him why her father literally keeps her under lock and key. Then one night he stops by and Cassie is alone. Her father is on a business trip and won't be back for several days. It is hinted that the two had sex that night. Later on, Parris stops by Drake's house and his friend guesses what has happened.

    Parris learns the truth about his grandmother and that she won't live much longer. After her death, he goes to stay with Drake until it is time to leave for Vienna. Then Cassie comes by, wild and incoherent. She begs Parris to take her with him to Vienna, that she can't stay at home any longer. Parris agrees but then once again, Louise runs off. Drake and Parris go to the Tower home but nothing seems amiss. Dr. Tower is sitting on the front porch and Cassie comes to the door, at which point he goes inside.

    The next morning, Parris learns that Cassie and her father are both dead. He poisoned her and shot himself. Parris believes it is his fault because Dr. Tower must have found out about him and Cassie. Drake goes to the Tower home to see what he can find out but insists that Parris stay behind. The sheriff and other officials are going through Dr. Tower's papers. On learning that Cassie's bags were packed, indicating that she planned to leave home, Drake says he was the one Cassie was going to run away with. He wants to keep Parris's name out of it.

    To Parris's shock, Dr. Tower left him his estate. He doesn't understand why until he finds a notebook left for him by the doctor. Cassie's mother was insane and had been for years before her death. Now Dr. Tower was noticing those same traits in Cassie. He decided it was better to kill his daughter before she could marry Parris and make him as miserable as Mrs. Tower had made him. Apparently he had known of the secret meetings between Parris and Cassie.

    When Parris leaves on the train, Drake sees him off and runs into Randy Monaghan, a childhood friend from the wrong side of the tracks. She was wild as a girl but has grown into a beautiful, respectable woman. She lives in a house by the railroad tracks with her father and brother, who both work for the railroad. Drake is attracted to her and they start going on buggy rides together. But she warns him that she won't marry him because they are from different social classes.

    While Parris is in Vienna, Drake learns that a bank official has absconded with his trust fund money, as well as money belonging to others. Suddenly penniless, Drake sells his aunt's house and gets a job with the railway company. Randy's father helps him get it. Then, on a dark and rainy night, Drake has an accident at work and injures his legs. Dr. Gordon is called from a party to attend him. Louise is hysterical and wants to go with him for she still loves Drake. But her parents won't permit it. At the shack where Drake was carried, Dr. Gordon says his legs are so badly injured that they must be amputated. No one questions his decision, but when he arrives home, Louise is waiting. She heard what happened and accuses her father of malpractice, not only on Drake but many others. As her hysteria grows, she declares that she is going to tell everyone about what he has done. Her father threatens to have her committed to the insane asylum. Knowing he can do it, she promises to keep silent.

    Drake is taken to the Monaghan house to recuperate and is unconscious for several days. Randy's father and brother Todd know she wants to keep him there and they agree. A special delivery letter is sent to Parris in Vienna. When Drake finally wakes up, he screams out "Where is the rest of me?"

    Parris has done so well in Vienna that he is offered a position in the hospital there. He intends to accept it until he gets Randy's letter. Knowing that his friend needs him now, he leaves for Kings' Row. Drake and Randy are married by the time he returns home and Drake is resigned to spending the rest of his life in bed. But Parris has no intention of letting that happen. He gives Drake and Randy his inheritance from Dr. Tower so they will have an easier time and begins to encourage Drake to take an interest in life again. Once Drake is on the road to recovery, Parris intends to return to Vienna.

    On learning that Dr. Gordon recently died, Parris decides to stay in Kings Row so its citizens won't be without a doctor. To his surprise, Mrs. Gordon sends for him. Since Drake's accident, Louise has spent most of her time in bed. She refused to attend her father's funeral. Mrs. Gordon reveals that on the night her husband died, she found Louise standing over his body cursing him. She believes the girl is insane and wants Parris to treat her. Parris talks to Louise in her bedroom and learns a shocking fact. Louise believes Drake's amputation was totally unnecessary, as well as many other operations he performed which left the patients maimed. She wants Parris to help her tell the townspeople. He tries to dissuade her, pointing out that even if it is true her father cannot be brought to justice. She is so insistent that he agrees. Over time he tries to interest her in books and art, but she is set on avenging Drake.

    Randy has an idea that she and Drake should use their money to buy property and build low-cost homes for working people. Parris encourages this and tells them they should build a home for themselves. But Drake suddenly hates the whole idea and makes Randy promise that he will never have to leave his bedroom. Later, Parris tells Randy that these outbursts are to be expected and in time will go away. Randy says that her brother bought Drake a wheelchair but he wouldn't use it.

    While taking a walk near his old home, Parris meets Elise Sandor. She and her father bought the house two years earlier. He is instantly taken with Elise and goes home with her. He meets her father and stays for dinner, after which he and Elise play the piano. Now that he has met Elise, Parris feels better about staying in Kings Row.

    A hysterical Louise comes to the Monaghan home demanding to see Drake. Parris happens to be there and she lashes out, accusing him of not doing anything to help her cause of going public about her father. Randy is horrified to learn the truth and Parris tells her never to say anything to Drake. He believes if his friend knows, he will give up altogether. After Louise leaves, Randy's brother reveals that he knew one of the men who had assisted Dr. Gordon with Drake's surgery. That man said there were no injuries that he could find to Drake's legs.

    Parris now wants to silence Louise as he is afraid Drake will learn the truth. He decides to have her committed to an insane asylum and writes the necessary letter. But before mailing it, he discusses the situation with Elise. She wants him to leave Louise alone and let her say what she will. She also thinks he is too close to Drake to be his doctor and maybe what he wants for Drake is not the right thing. Parris asks if she will go back to Vienna with him and she agrees but it is obvious she is not happy about it. Suddenly he gets up and leaves, promising to return if what he has in mind works out. Bursting into Drake's bedroom, he tells him the truth; that Dr. Gordon amputated his legs unnecessarily, out of revenge for his interest in Louise. To his utter shock, Drake bursts out laughing. He and Randy embrace and he agrees to move into a new house. Parris returns to Elise's house, where she comes running across the lawn to meet him. They embrace.



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