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One OF Hollywood's Finest Hours!
jpdoherty16 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Warner Bros. KINGS ROW (1942) is ,without doubt, one of Hollywood's most enduring and best loved cinema classics from its Golden Age! Produced by Hal Wallis it was crisply photographed by ace Cinematographer James Wong Howe in glorious black & white and contains one of the finest musical scores ever wedded to a film soundtrack. Also, like his work on "Gone With The Wind" Production Designer William Cameron Menzies brought the small town setting of KINGS ROW to vivid life and director Sam Wood ensured Menzies approach was adhered to with his stylish direction.

Based on the controversial novel by Henry Bellamann it is quiet astonishing that KINGS ROW ever went before the cameras at all! The story revolves around three children growing into adulthood in a small American mid - western town just before the turn of the 20th century and their exposure to all manner of human excesses, frailties and shortcomings. The book is peppered with a plethora of taboo subjects (especially for the forties) such as nymphomania, incest, insanity, sadism, and homosexuality. But brilliant screen writer Casey Robinson ("Now Voyager") managed, by some miracle, to skillfully skirt around these problems, defuse and avoid any elaborations and viewing the finished film it is difficult to decipher any of the character weaknesses Bellamann wrote about.

The cast is reasonably good! Top billed is the lovely Ann Sheridan as the feisty and endearing Randy Monaghan. It is her finest performance and the best film she ever did! Surprisingly the usually wooden Ronald Reagan turns in a more than passable performance as the somewhat carefree ladies man Drake McHugh. And he is most convincing in the startling scene where he awakens to discover both his legs have been amputated and screaming repeatedly "WHERE'S THE REST OF ME?" (a line the actor would use later for the title of his autobiography in 1965). The weakest link in the cast is Robert Cummings (borrowed from Universal) as the leading protagonist Parris Mitchell! His one note performance reduces the character to nothing more than an uninteresting over prim and prissy bore. Cummings retains nothing of the likable personality already established early in the picture by the delightful portrayal of child actor the ill-fated Scotty Beckett as the young Parris. Excellent too is Claude Rains as Dr. Towers and Parris' mentor, Betty Field as his deranged daughter, Charles Coburn as the sadistic doctor, the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris' grandmother and her good friend Col. Skeffington played by the always likable Harry Davenport ("When she passes much passes with her?....a whole way of life, a way of gentleness... of dignity and honour. These things are going and they may never come back to this world".) A prophetic observation no doubt!

One of the great strengths of KINGS ROW is the outstanding operatic music score composed and conducted by the great Viennese composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold's genius as a motion picture composer was not limited only to scoring action spectaculars like "The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) and "The Sea Hawk" (1940) for he could, with no difficulty, underscore such character driven dramas as "Between Two Worlds" (1944), "Deception" (1946) and KINGS ROW with equal aplomb! Besides "The Sea Hawk" KINGS ROW is his finest achievement and of his 18 scores was his own personal favourite! His leitmotific approach to scoring could often be quite stunning and never more so than with KINGS ROW . The score is just chock-a-block with exquisite themes! Heard first under the titles is the powerful main theme. Brimming with bravura brass fanfares the music is decidedly heroic! The composer hadn't yet viewed the film when the magnificent piece was first conceived. And thinking the story concerned historical royalty because of its title imbued the theme with a distinctive monarchical flavour. However when he saw the script and learnt the film was set in small-town USA he offered to change it but Hal Wallis liked it so much he persuaded the composer to retain the piece and a blessing it is too. Heard in different guises throughout the picture it is particularly engaging as a scherzo variation near the film's opening as the young Parris Mitchell and Cassandra Towers skip home by the river after school. Other superb cues are the poignant theme for the grandmother, the melancholy music for Cassie's ill attended birthday party, the frolicsome variation of the main theme for the children playing on the rings in Elroy's Icehouse, the ravishing theme for Randy and the Finale music - a reiteration of the main theme - which bursts forth upon us near the end but this time with a mixed chorus intoning a line from W. E. Henley's poem "Invictus" - I AM THE MASTER OF MY FATE - I AM THE CAPTAIN OF MY SOUL. A marvellous soulful and uplifting finish to a marvellous film!

KINGS ROW - a work of cinematic art!

"Now...if you turn your face to that wall!"

An interesting footnote:

It is notable that Korngold's main theme from KINGS ROW was used for both of Ronald Reagan's inaugurations!
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Kings Row- A Welcomed Addition to Any Neighborhood ****
edwagreen25 August 2007
The absolute best picture that Ronald Reagan ever made. Why wasn't he given better film roles after his impressive performance as Drake McHugh? Ditto for Bob Cummings. So sad to realize seeing both of them in the scenes of this picture, young and charming. Unfortunately, both fell victim to Alzheimer's Disease.

The picture is first rate. 1942 seemed to be a big year that Hollywood spoke about mental illness. Claude Rains also starred in "Now, Voyager" that dealt with Bette Davis's breakdown following a regimented life with a tormenting mother.

"Kings Row" deals with schizophrenia. Betty Field did an outstanding job as the doomed Cassie.

The film also deals with a sadistic surgeon played by Charles Coburn, in a terrific brief dramatic performance. As his wife, Judith Anderson was at her usual eerie self.

There are so many themes in this film. We see the class differences among Drake, Dr. Mitchell (Cummings) and in a terrific performance, Ann Sheridan as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks that shows her devotion to Drake when he has a series of unbelievable misfortunes befall him.

Drake's line "Where's the rest of me," when he awakes to find that his legs have been amputated is unforgettable.

"Kings Row" was nominated for best picture in 1942. It would take a classic such as "Mrs. Miniver" to have beaten it out.
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Quite marvelous
arturus2 December 2007
I've only recently seen this film in its entirety (after decades of watching the clip of Ronnie Reagan's best scene in it) and am totally surprised by how fine this film really is; in fact, when it ended, I found myself wanting to burst into applause. But to appreciate it you must put yourself into the time it was made, mid- to late 1941. This picture was meant to be an "A" picture (that is, the first picture to be shown on a double bill, or the only film being shown) showcasing the up and coming generation of Warners actors. None of the young players was particularly well-known, except in supporting roles. The older players were all familiar to film, theater and radio audiences. Radio, since radio drama was a major national venue then and all of these older players, in fact, most major stars, had starring roles in radio plays.

This picture would have been shown in its first run in the chain of theaters owned by Warners, mostly large ones, and shown in a large house, holding an audience of a thousand people or more, with a very large screen yards wide and high and a sound system that was louder and definitely more "high fidelity" than any member of the audience had at home or had heard anywhere else.

The book on which the film was based had been a scandalous best seller two years before and many if not most had read it (people read books then!) and in fact many in the audience were probably alive when this film takes place, in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. Everyone would have been familiar with the style of dialogue and acting, which seems stilted to us, since it originated on the stage, with no microphones; the costumes, customs and speech would have been in living memory for many watching it in its first run, if not theirs, then their parents'.

As for Korngold's superb score, this too was a familiar part of a theatrical experience at the time. Most stage plays had live incidental music accompanying them. All major Broadway plays did. Opera, operetta and vaudeville were all part of the audience's experience, all with live music as part of the experience, and no one would have found Korngold's score obtrusive, just part of the show and gorgeous to hear. In fact, Korngold's score for "Robin Hood" in 1938 was premiered live on network radio as a major event, before the picture opened!

As for black and white, these films were truly in "black and white" on the big screen. Blacks WERE black and whites were silvery white. We see then on video screens, and so far, even with the best of those, these films look to be in "gray and grayer", with not the high contrast they had in the theater. So we dismiss them as flat and lifeless; in the theater, black and white has quite a lot of depth and sparkle.

So in its proper context, this film is really quite astonishingly good. The production design is by the same man who designed the look of "Gone With the Wind", so there are the gorgeously composed shots, the depth of field, use of light and shadow and attention to detail in that film. Even the landscapes, matte paintings that so many of them are, most have looked quite beautiful projected large. The acting is all first rate. All the actors, in their late twenties and early thirties, are playing younger than their ages. Cummings has the right wide eyed innocence of an only child reared in relative isolation by his grandmother, Sheridan is beautiful and true, Reagan lively and cocky, and Field, the disturbed adolescent. Reagan is the real surprise here; totally unaffected, he acts effortlessly here on film, building a character, listening to the actors in the scene and reacting in the moment. And his best scenes, "THAT" one, and the final scene, are excellent.

And when it ends, with a flourish those audiences would have found entirely familiar and even comforting, I can imagine an audience of a thousand bursting into prolonged applause.
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Classic, with Reagan's Question, "Where's the Rest of Me?"
cariart22 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
KING'S ROW, based on Henry Bellamann's huge, "unfilmable" novel, served as a showcase for many of Warner Brothers' rising stars of 1942, and has achieved 'classic' status over the years. It provided Ronald Reagan with his finest performance (he even entitled a pre-Presidential autobiography "Where's the Rest of Me?", from his most famous line of dialog from the film), moved Ann Sheridan to the "A-List" of WB stars, and offered one of the most memorable musical themes in film history, by composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The story of a group of children growing up in a small community prior to the turn of the century, and the adults they would become, screenwriter Casey Robinson infuses the youngsters' escapades with an innocence that makes their actions (performing acrobatics in their underwear in a freight car, a nude 'dip' in a local pond) seem sweet, not naughty. The 'leader' of the children, Drake McHugh (Douglas Croft/Ronald Reagan) is a rich, likable rogue, popular with girls, but most devoted to his best friend, serious Parris Mitchell (Scotty Beckett/Robert Cummings), a gifted piano student living with his grandmother (the remarkable Maria Ouspenskaya), who dreams of someday becoming a doctor. The girls in their lives are Randy Monaghan (Ann Todd/Ann Sheridan), a good-hearted girl from the 'wrong side of the tracks'; Louise Gordon (Joan Duvalle/Nancy Coleman), boy-crazy, and the most popular girl in town; and mysterious Cassandra 'Cassie' Tower (Mary Thomas/Betty Field), who Parris secretly adores, the daughter of the reclusive Dr. Tower (Claude Rains). After a disastrous party that only Parris and a few 'undesirables' attend (everyone else opts for a party at Louise's home), the heartbroken Cassie is yanked from school and isolated, under suspicious circumstances, by Dr. Tower. Parris grows to adulthood, still carrying a torch for his 'lost love'.

With the children 'grown up', the major story lines begin. Parris studies medicine with Dr. Tower, prior to college in Vienna, and meets Cassie again; despite her bizarre behavior and paranoia, the pair renew their chaste affair, which ends in tragedy and death (mental illness is given as the reason in the film; in the book, incest was the cause). After Parris leaves for Vienna, Drake is swindled out of his fortune, becoming a hard-drinking bum until he is 'redeemed' by Randy, and begins working with her family at the train yards. One night, crates fall on Drake, and when the doctor (Charles Coburn), the father of Louise Gordon (who Drake supposedly 'deflowered'), arrives, the old physician sees an opportunity to extract revenge, and amputates both of Drake's legs. Knowing her father had unnecessarily 'punished' Drake unhinges Louise, and the anxious Randy, spiritually and physically crippled Drake, and schizophrenic Louise all await the return of Parris, now a certified physician specializing in psychiatry, from Vienna. Upon his shoulders would lie everyone's redemption and recovery.

Despite an overly earnest performance by Cummings (with some of the most flowery dialog ever recorded on film), KINGS ROW works, thanks to the wonderful performances of Reagan and Sheridan. The ending still packs a wallop, even after sixty years, and is truly moving.

This is a film NOT to be missed!
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The Unbearable Complexity of Being
Tipu28 July 1999
I have never been to America, but this movie seems so familiar. It reminds me so much of the apartment building I grew up in Calcutta. Maybe because people everywhere are essentially the same, or maybe because every character in this movie is a carefully thought out archetype. The Good Grandson who is the apostle of virtue, the Sacrificing Best Friend, the Spunky Girl, the men who live on the wrong side of the tracks but are still nobler than the rich old townspeople, the Old Man with Something to Hide, the Evil Man with an Honorable Facade, etc. In fact just the crowd u'd meet anywhere u live. That's what, I feel, gives this movie its timelessness. Add to it James Wong Howe's lustrous b&w photography like an old family photo polished everyday by the doting old maid, the assured editing that pieces together scenes straddling across time [Parris, the good little boy to Parris the good young man] & space [Americana to Vienna, like the new year msg in Parris' letter from Vienna dissolving into another msg scratched out on the snow in King's Row], Sam Wood's confident direction [he had done 'Our Town' too] & brilliant all round acting. Reagan blew my mind & so did Anne Sheridan. Wish Robert Cummings was less wimpy, but you can't take it all, can you?

A great movie, see it!
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Where's The Rest of Me?
krorie6 April 2006
For those who made fun of President Reagan's movie career by always citing "Bedtime for Bonzo" and laughing may be surprised if they take the time to watch "Kings Row." Even "Bedtime for Bonzo" is not as bad as those who have never seen it think it is, because of the ridiculous title. The former sports announcer plays Drake McHugh as well or better than any other Hollywood actor of the period could have. He stands tall among an extremely talented group of actors, including several others who have also been underrated and never received their due by the Hollywood establishment, especially Bob Cummings and Ann Sheridan. There's also Judith Anderson of "Rebecca" fame; Claude Rains who first made a name for himself in a part were he was invisible through most of the film; Charles Coburn, the grand old man of 40's cinema, playing against type in "Kings Row" as not such a grand old man; Maria Ouspenskaya in a non-horror role; and Betty Field shines as the tortured soul, Cassie.

Sam Wood's magnificent direction plus the acting keep the story from slipping into soap opera melodrama. True heart-rending sentiment rather than sappy sentimentality emerges from the social and economic conflicts that mix with human kindness and cruelty in small-town America at the turn of the last century. Though there is an element of nostalgia for a vanishing America, it never becomes petty or commonplace.
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A truly classic masterpiece from Hollywood's golden age!
DommyCommy5728 February 2005
Kings Row in my opinion is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Why it wasn't it on the American Film Institutes 100 films of all time is beyond me and another weird thing why wasn't its star the beautiful and talented Ann Sheridan among their greatest stars of all time is another crime. Ronald Reagan gives the performance of his entire career. The rest of the cast is first-rate as well. Robert Cummings is good but is the weakest character for me. Betty Field is very good in her small part. The supporting cast which includes Charles Coburn, Claude Rains, Maria Ouspenkaya and Kaaren Verne are all sensational. The music and the cinematography are incredible. Sam Wood directed a truly Gothic melodrama. The black and white photography is so gloriously rich. I am waiting anxiously for this to come out on DVD. In 1942 this film should have gotten a lot of nominations and won some. Best picture, actor, actress, director, supporting actor, supporting actress and screenplay and also cinematography and musical score. I think it did actually get a best picture nomination come to think of it. If you never saw this film, you must look out for it and Ann Sheridan in her finest hour.
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DVD urgently needed
forker1 June 2005
This is a wonderful film with one of the greatest musical scores Hollywood ever produced. Eric Wolfgang Korngold is a splendid composer, and this may be his best film score. And the star cast makes the film historically very important. All the major parts are beautifully done. I especially admire Claude Rains and Charles Coburn as the psychiatrist and the sadistic surgeon. The scenes at the beginning with the characters as children is also wonderfully nostalgic and evokes small-town life at the turn of the 20th century effectively. This is Ronald Reagan's best film. It is a disgrace that this film is not yet available on DVD. It would be a good candidate for inclusion in the Criterion series. When can we purchase this film on DVD?
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A Fine Drama From The Golden Age of Movies
LACUES10 January 2005
"Kings Row" is truly a gem. The acting, photography,direction, script, and memorable score are outstanding. A number of reviewers have criticized Robert Cummings as not being up to the role of Parris Michell. I have to disagree. His earnestness and sincerity are what I appreciate in his characterization which is central to the storyline. Claude Rains, Harry Davenport, Ronald Reagan, and especially Ann Sheridan are outstanding in supporting roles.

I am not an "old geezer", a phrase used by Ronald Reagan in describing Dr. Gordon, who appreciates films from the 30's and 40's; unless being 59 qualifies me as such. I find myself viewing this movie several times a year on tape and Turner Classic Movies. Korngold's theme is truly one of the five top film themes. This is a sensitive and entertaining movie which stands the test of time.
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Before 'Peyton Place' there was 'Kings Row'...powerful small-town melodrama studded with great performances...
Doylenf10 April 2001
Kings Row is perhaps the granddaddy of all small-town epics--a strong story line, an excellent cast and all of it punctuated by one of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's most melodious background scores. Considering this was done in the early '40s, the subject matter is handled honestly but with the kind of discretion it would never receive by any of today's filmmakers. Instead, you are asked to connect the dotted lines on the subject of incest, insanity, sadism and moral corruption behind closed doors and come up with your own observations. Two outstanding leads are Ann Sheridan (never more heartbreakingly honest and moving as the girl from the wrong side of the tracks) and Ronald Reagan as the carefree man she loves and sticks by when fate deals him a hard blow. Robert Cummings is too weak in the central role of Parris--he was always much more suited to comedy than strong drama. But the rest of the large supporting cast are extremely effective--Nancy Coleman (on the brink of insanity after her doctor father's horrific act), Judith Anderson, Charles Coburn (as the sadistic doctor), Claude Rains and Betty Field. Wonderful black and white photography by James Wong Howe, excellent script by Casey Robinson, meticulous production design by William Cameron Menzies and, of course, that pulsating Korngold score--all create one of the most powerful films of the '40s. Ann Sheridan was never better--and Ronald Reagan is fully up to the requirements of a difficult role.
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Subtle touches and clever direction add to the enjoyment!
tdemos18 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Sam Wood, never seemed to get the recognition as a brilliant director, but King's Row must rank high among his finest works.

There are many subtle touches, especially in his use of background action. Note the scene in which the bank manager first learns that the bank president may have fled with funds and leaves Reagan sitting at his desk. As the manager proceeds to the teller's cage, you can still see Reagan flirting and goofing around with Ann Sheridan in the far left background.

Further in the distance, a horse and carriage round the corner through the outside window. The result is brilliant. You believe you are in the year 1900. David Lean could not have done it better.

King's row is filled with such detailed period action shots and period scenes, yet the sets were clearly constructed on a limited budget. There are scenes of incredible sunsets with the rolling hills and dales, church steeples, and the buildings of Kings Row in an utterly charming, but evocative presentation of turn-of-the-century America.

The long, exterior shots seem to be inspired from Gone With The Wind, indeed, Sam Wood was one of the directors who was called on to finish that movie when the workload became too much for Victor Fleming.

Note also, the care with how the child actors are matched, in looks and mannerisms, with their adult actor counterparts. The little girl who plays Randy (Red) as a child is particularly good. Listen for her laugh when she is sitting on the fence. You actually believe that she might be a very young Ann Sheridan.

Reagan, Cummings, Sheridan, and Claude Rains are all excellent. But my favorite line in the movie is uttered by the evil Dr. Gordon as he is finishing his meal and slowly looks up and is a bit startled to find that his daughter has escaped and is present in front of him.

"... Is the party over? (pauses – looks up) Where's your mother!!?"
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Turn of the Century Soap Opera at its best!
mark.waltz3 May 2001
One of the best remembered films of the 40's, "King's Row" has gotten more attention because of Ronald Reagen's "Where's the rest of me?" line than anything else in the film. Sixty years later, "King's Row" as a film holds an important place in American history for more reasons than just a famous line barked by a future American president.

The central character is Paris Mitchell (Robert Cummings), the epitome of goodness and virtue. Raised by his loving grandma (Maria Ouspenskaya) in a wealthy home, Paris has been taught to love beyond his social standing, and ends up giving back to society what his grandmother gave to him. The secondary lead is Drake McHugh (Reagen), a spunky young man who is Paris's best friend. Paris is sometimes too good to be believed; McHugh is a full-bodied character, supporting in status, who steals interest away from the lead.

Paris and Drake are surrounded by characters of all classes, good and bad, who have major impacts on their lives. Dr. Towers (Claude Rains) is a mysterious doctor (without any patients) who lives as a recluse thanks to the insanity of his wife. Towers' daughter, Cassie (Betty Field), loves Paris, but Towers does all he can to keep them apart while training Paris to become a doctor. Then, there is surgeon Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn), seemingly good on the surface, but filled with a dark streak on the inside that would ultimately destroy Drake. His wife (Judith Anderson) supports him, but daughter Louise (Nancy Coleman) is desperately in love with Drake, and would do anything to be with him, even defying her parents.

A childhood chum, Randi Monahan (Ann Sheridan) is the spunky girl from the other side of the tracks who grows up to be a beautiful and kind woman. Drake's bankruptcy brings him and Randi together, while Paris goes off to Europe to study psychiatry after a tragic incident at Dr. Towers' house. During Paris' absence, Drake has an accident which Dr. Gordon is brought to. That night changes everyone's life forever.

Robert Cummings is not a poor actor, but certainly not one of the best out of Hollywood. Handsome Cummings tried to change his image with this film, but was totally outshined by Reagen who proved that with the right preparations, he could be an excellent actor. I am not a Ronald Reagen fan-politically or as an actor, but he is massively impressive here. His other film credits were filled with forgettable performances, but this one I must honesty say he was worthy of an Oscar nomination which he did not receive. Also worthy of a nomination was Ann Sheridan, even though she does not make her appearance until Paris leaves for Europe. Her strength and devotion to Drake give Sheridan the chance to stretch all of her acting muscles, and Sheridan does it impressively. Sheridan, unlike her male co-stars, did have a respectable list of acting credits, and it is a pity that she was never acknowledged during her lifetime for her talents.

As two different style of doctors, Rains and Coburn give two different styles of performances. Rains is quietly sensitive and filled with pain as to the torture he feels concerning his wife and daughter; Coburn, on the other hand, has everything; a wife who loves him, and a seemingly strong daughter. However, once his dark side comes through, Coburn becomes absolutely hissable. Unlike Rains, whom we sympathize with, Coburn never once wins us over. Such a lovable actor in other films, he really had a different type of part here, and chews it up like a dog on a fresh steak bone!

Ouspenskaya always gives me chuckles in the wrong places. The scene where young Paris speaks French to her through the open windows of their home is laughabily over the top. Later, when Ouspenskaya is dying, she expresses such a over-the-top nobility that on several occasions, I found myself saying, "Would you just die already?" Wide-eyed Betty Field makes the most of a small part as Cassie Towers; Nancy Coleman's Louise Gordon goes from sane to psycho in such a short span that I can't help but wish there had been more to fill in what drove her there. Screen villainess Judith Anderson sadly is underused in her few scenes as Mrs. Gordon. I longed for her to have one truly evil scene, yet felt sympathy for her when she confided her fears of Louise's insanity to Paris Mitchell. Small appearances by Harry Davenport and Kaaren Verne are charming, yet undeveloped.

In spite of these faults, I find "King's Row" remains a favorite of mine, thanks to its delightfully charming yet gaudy small town atmosphere (reminding me of the small town in Chautaqua County New York I grew up in), the marvelous musical score, and the simply breathtaking photography. Strongest of all is Sam Wood's direction which makes the film flow smoothly from one sequence to the next. "King's Row" would have made an excellent daily soap opera, and in fact did appear briefly in the 50's as a prime time series.
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original casting thoughts
ldoyon013 April 2006
Kings Row was bought by Hal Wallis, then the number two man at WB, Warner Brothers. As there was often trades made between studios for leading actors and actresses, Wallis originally wanted Tyrone Power to play Drake, and Henry Fonda to play Parris, but he couldn't talk Darryl Zanuck into it. Ronald Reagan proved his strength as actor in this movie. Bob Cummings is felt as being weak in his portrayal of Parris. However Parris's character is played with the right touch of not so much weakness as being naive. Henry Fonda would've brought more intensity to the role, but I'm not sure he could've brought out the essence of how sheltered a life Parris had lived as child, and later teenager. That's what Cummings brought to the role.
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Very good but a bit uneven
MartinHafer2 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
KINGS ROW is a very good but uneven movie. However, the overall film is well worth seeing despite its shortcomings.

The film is set in the fictional town of KINGS ROW towards the end of the 19th century. It begins with several children and shows their adolescent dreams and friendships. Soon, the story jumps ahead a decade and you see them as young adults--noticing how they have changed for the better or worse.

Parris Mitchell (Bob Cummings) is the star of the film--especially the first half. He has grown up with a reasonably wealthy family and has a dream of going to Vienna to study with the greatest doctors in the world. However, he needs to work with a local doctor, Dr. Tower (Claude Rains) to study to have any hope of passing the entrance exams. At the same time, he's infatuated with Tower's daughter, Cassandra (Betty Field)--though they've seen little of each other since they were young. This is because, oddly, Dr. Tower took Cassandra out of school at about age 10 and has kept her as a recluse of sorts in their home. Later, Parris and Cassandra begin seeing each other secretly--with hopes of marrying.

Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) is a brash young man with a trust fund. He's Parris' best friend and he seems to live only to have a good time. He's not particularly serious but also a generally likable fellow. However, he's fallen for Dr. Gordon's daughter--and Gordon (Charles Coburn) absolutely refuses to allow his daughter to see him. As for Gordon, he's a a sanctimonious and judgmental old man who seems to have little regard for his patients--particularly the ones he finds morally "objectionable". With these despised patients, he often refuses to use anesthesia when operating--a way to pay them back for their wickedness! Later in the film, Doc Gordon has a chance to treat the hated Drake.

Only around the middle of the film do we get to see Randy Monaghan (Ann Sheridan), though oddly she gets top billing. While Ann Sheridan did great in the film and you couldn't help but admire her performance, she was not the star of the movie. Instead, she and Drake begin dating and after Drake suffers a horrible accident, she is his strength and support.

The movie is a very long and involved soap opera. I heard it once described as being a lot like PEYTON PLACE, though KINGS ROW seems to have less of an emphasis on sex (at least in the movie). Oddly, the first half of the movie or so is almost like a separate film. It's good, but the second half is much more exciting and emotionally charged. The first half is mostly devoted to Parris and his relationship with the Towers. The second half is more devoted to Drake, though Parris is still an important part of the film. There are many interesting plot elements I have not mentioned because getting into the plot with any more depth would spoil the film.

As for performances, although the focus was mostly on Bob Cummings, his role was relatively unexciting to watch. He was a very good man and you liked him, but his emotional range didn't need to be great. However, despite receiving third billing, Ronald Reagan really stood out in the film--even more than Sheridan's fine performance. Although initially a rather dull character, later in the film his life underwent many tragedies and Reagan displayed a very believable emotional range--much greater than you'd see in his other films. Frankly, here he is great--whereas in most of his other films he's wooden and less than appealing. It's interesting to see that when given excellent material and direction, he was a fine actor.

At the beginning of the review, I said that this was a good but uneven film. Part of this I have already alluded to--how it's like two separate films and the first one is far less compelling than the second. However, the real serious unevenness is because sometimes the director handled dramatic moments beautifully--such as the scene with Reagan in bed after his accident. This and many other moments were done with such deftness and grace that they really pull you into the film. I know I was nearly ready for a box of Kleenex at these moments! Sadly, though, there were some moments here and there that were just sappy as well. In particular, the very end was just terrible. As Reagan has his big dramatic breakthrough, you hear swells of almost angelic music and this huge burden disappears INSTANTLY!! This scene was done in about one minute--and should have been done in at least five to ten. The entire ending was rushed and sloppy. Perhaps since the movie had already gone on for over two hours they felt a need to do this. I would have been much happier had they either trimmed some off other parts of the film instead or just lengthened the film more. It was upsetting to invest this much time in the movie and just have a cheap and manipulative ending.

Overall, despite my many complaints about the unevenness, the great moments are so many and the film is such a wonderful showcase for Reagan and Sheridan that I strongly recommend it. My teenage daughter usually doesn't love these sort of films but she watched it with me. In the beginning, she was a bit critical but towards the end, I could see her interest increase tremendously. She also said the movie was good but uneven--that's a chip off the old block!
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Engaging Drama
kenjha4 August 2007
Sometimes melodramatic but otherwise engaging adaptation of popular novel tracks the lives of a group of friends in a small town from childhood to adulthood, as they cope with life's challenges. There are good performances from Cummings as an earnest fellow who wants to become a doctor, Field as a mysterious young woman he loves, Rains as her domineering father, Reagan, in his finest role, as Cummings' best friend, and the radiant Sheridan as the former tomboy from the wrong side of the tracks who loves Reagan. Well directed by Wood, helped by the top-notch cinematography (Howe) and score (Korngold). It beautifully captures the feel of a small town around the turn of the 20th century.
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My two cent's worth
gerry15913 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Considering the many characters in Henry Bellamanns novel Kings Row, it's actually amazing that Warner Bros. screen writers came up with an extremely intelligent version. And a lot that happened in the book , at that time simply could not be brought to the screen or the film would have turned into Gone With The Wind. In the opening scene where the school children are making sport of a "dim-witted" student - and it is a fleeting moment on screen - the character was richly drawn in the novel. Payton Graves only gets his name on a sign where in the book he was very much a part of Kings Row. I point these things out because Casey Robinson and Warner Bros. really did take great pains to bring to the screen the sprawling novel. And they did it up brown. Many reviewers here decry the performance of Robert Commings as being weak but I always thought that he played Parris Mitchell as written in the novel. I didn't know that Warners wanted Tyrone Power for the Mitchell part and I think he would have added just what the screen play needed but FOX was keeping their star busy with swash-buckling, technicolor roles then and didn't need any help from Warner Bros, besides Fox was wary after they loaned Power to MGM for Marie Antoniette and MGM under used him. After that Fox vowed never to loan him out again. Anyway, I just watched Kings Row and find that it is still intense and my emotions are wrung dry. When I became older I had a chance to read Kings Row and it really opened my eyes to what was really going on in that town. Payton Place looks like school playground compared to Kings Row. After reading the book I wanted to pattern my life after Parris Mitchell and then later on after Larry in The Razor's Edge and finally in collage after the idealistic young protagonist in The Fountainhead. Alas, I reached none of those goals and just settled into an ordinary life. Anyway, Kings Row is a kind of masterpiece of a kind.
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King Row on DVD
eleni12117 December 2005
Does anyone have any information about when the wonderful film directed by Sam Wood and titled Kings Row (1942) will be available on DVD? How can we promote the DVD version of fine films that are forgotten by many as the years go by?

When so much junk comes out on DVD it is a shame that classic films like Kings Row and Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons and Kazan's America America await justice.

One would think that films awarded or acclaimed award winners would be a short list for DVD format.

Studios really don't think much of their audiences do they?
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Behind half closed curtains
jandesimpson13 September 2003
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.
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Lurid Soap Opera Might Give You a Chuckle Here and There for How Ridiculous It Gets
evanston_dad24 April 2017
This handsome-looking soaper from Warner Bros. is the 1940s version of "Peyton Place."

In the strait-laced world of early 40s Hollywood movies, some of the material in this film had to have ladies reaching for their smelling salts. Mental illness, premarital sex, a murder suicide, and, most satisfyingly lurid of all the plot lines, a doctor who performs unnecessary operations on patients as a way to punish them for their moral transgressions. Robert Cummings is boring as they come, an unfortunate quality given that he's the film's principle character and the one with whom we spend the most time. The standout, surprisingly enough, is Ronald Reagan, never known for being much of an actor, but who injects the film with the much-needed pizazz that Cummings can't muster. The actors I wanted the most of, Claude Rains and Charles Coburn, as two small-town nutjobs, are sadly given little screen time.

Warner Bros. clearly spent some money on the film's production values, with production design by William Cameron Menzies, Oscar- nominated cinematography by James Wong Howe, and an oppressively nonstop score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold that set my teeth on edge and left me craving a moment of silence. In addition to its nod for James Wong Howe, the film garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture of the year and Best Director for Sam Wood, who managed to nab three directing nominations in four years despite having no discernible style.

Grade: B
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You'll Like Our Town...........Maybe
bkoganbing4 June 2009
Besides providing Ronald Reagan with his career role and the title of his pre-presidential autobiography, Kings Row is a finely crafted piece of film making by director Sam Wood. The film got Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best black and white Cinematography for James Wong Howe.

Incredibly though, the rich musical score that Erich Wolfgang Korngold did was overlooked by the Academy. That's the thing you will take away from watching the film, even more so than Ronald Reagan's anguished cry of 'where's the rest of me'.

The story takes place at the turn of the last century with an interlude of ten years from 1890 to 1900 where we see the leads as children first and then as adults. Despite Ronald Reagan getting all the notice here, he's actually third billed in the cast. Above him are Ann Sheridan and Robert Cummings and it's really the Cummings character whom the film is centered around.

King's Row is the town these folks inhabit, purportedly based on Fulton Missouri, the hometown of author Henry Bellamann. This may be set in Missouri, but don't expect no Tom Sawyer like story. If in fact the novel is based on Bellamann's experiences growing up, he must have had one Gothic childhood.

Sam Wood assembled an incredible cast of supporting players, like Claude Rains, Judith Anderson, Charles Coburn, Harry Davenport, Minor Watson, Nancy Coleman, and Kaaren Verne. Coburn and Anderson are the parents of Coleman and they don't like the fact she's keeping company with Reagan who's playing the entire Kings Row field. In addition Coburn is a doctor who is also a sadist, he does things like perform operations without use of anesthetic. I'm sure he had heard of Dr. Morton and his successful use of ether by this time.

The best in the cast though is Claude Rains, something he usually was in a lot of films. He's another doctor, totally different from Coburn. He's a famous medical practitioner who has chosen to hide himself away in this small and obscure town. He's got a wife who never comes out and a daughter who grows up to be Betty Field who is suddenly and abruptly taken out of school as a child. It's with him who Robert Cummings studies medicine with to pass the examination and go to school in Europe to become a doctor.

Rains's tragic story is what sets in motion the rest of the story that climaxes with Reagan's anguished cry. Rains creates such a mysterious and sad air about him that you think about him more than anyone else in the movie.

Kings Row begs comparison to Our Town which is partly set in the generation where the Cummings, Field, Reagan, and Sheridan characters all grow up. Grover's Corners has its share of tragedies as well as happy times.

Kings Row and Our Town should be run back to back in order to see what I'm referring to. It's not a bad double bill, in fact quite a literate one.
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Reagan Was at his BEST!
whpratt112 June 2004
Viewed this film when it was first shown in NYC and our hearts went out to the great acting Ronald Reagan performed in this picture. Reagan wanted this role and was in competition with other great actors who also desired this role, which made Ron work even harder to give an outstanding performance. Claude Rains,(Dr. Alexander Q. Tower),"The Wolfman",'66, was a famous and great veteran actor of the screen along with Betty Field (Cassie Tower),"Peyton Place",'57 who gave a great supporting role along with Maria Ouspenskaya(Madame von Eln), "The Wolfman",'66. This film had a great deal of mystery surrounding a small town and told the deep horrors of murder, incest and mental illness that was being hidden behind closed doors. Many of the citizens of the town had many secrets to hide from each other. Robert Cummings played a great role as a very successful young man trying to become a great doctor. However, Ronald Reagan made this one of his greatest acting roles, and brought tears to your eyes through out many scenes!
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When I had something amputated.....
gkeith_15 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I had to have a mastectomy 6 years ago on April 7, 1998, upon diagnosis with malignant breast cancer. I was devastated, but had to do it to save my life. Before the surgery, I kept thinking of Ronald Reagan (Drake) in "King's Row") -- one of my favorite classic movies of all time. When Drake woke up (from having both his legs amputated) and he asked, "Where's the rest of me?," it broke my heart.

I also thought my surgeon would make a mistake and remove both breasts, and I would be a double amputee like Drake. Well, this did not happen, but still I remembered the crooked doctor from "King's Row."

Before my own surgery, I thought I would say the same thing when I woke up from the anesthesia. When I woke up, I was exactly like Drake. All I could see were bandages, and I was in a lot of pain. Only 1 breast was missing, thankfully. I had several pieces of equipment hooked up to me in the recovery room, but all I could ask was, "Where's the rest of me?"

So now, Ronald Reagan is terminally ill, and dying soon, according to the internet news I just read. I loved him as Drake in "King's Row", and he was the inspiration for my courage during my surgery (I have had plenty of other surgeries since then, too).

He is 93 years old. I remember him as a young man in "King's Row", and it will break my heart whenever I next see that movie.
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Unfaithful to the book but surprisingly compelling
hrd196314 April 2007
Henry Bellamann's account of small town life at the turn of the twentieth century, with its central themes of incest, suicide, religious fanaticism, homosexuality, euthanasia and sadism (among other less controversial topics), assured its best seller status when the book was first published in 1940. When Warner Brothers released its film version two years later, much of the story's sensational content was altered or eliminated entirely and yet the movie remained surprisingly compelling. The first part of the film concerns itself primarily with Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings), the sensitive and idealistic doctor-in-training, and his volatile relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Cassie (played by Betty Field), and it's less successful because of the films inability to deal honestly with the demons that haunt Cassie. (The revelation that Cassie is being molested by her father is jettisoned completely and the movie, instead, settles for the explanation that Cassie is mentally ill. The frantic and desperate interludes that Parris and Cassie share, however, fevered by a kind of histrionic intensity, don't make much sense within this context and the viewer is left feeling somewhat bewildered by it all). The second part of the film, which focuses on the other major love story, that of Parris' best friend Drake (Ronald Reagan) and Randy (Ann Sheridan), the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, is more faithful to Bellamann's novel and altogether more satisfying. There is also a fascinating subplot, involving Drake's abandoned sweetheart, Louise (Nancy Coleman), that helps to sustain the film and propel the movie to its dynamic conclusion. Though Cummings, as Parris, is bland and overly-sincere, the movie contains what is considered to be Ronald Reagan's finest screen performance (not that the competition had been that keen) and Ann Sheridan is an immensely warm and lovely presence. The film belongs, however, to it's amazing supporting cast, comprised of some of Hollywood's finest character players: Betty Field, touching as the frightened and disturbed Cassie; the wonderful Claude Rains, beautifully underplaying as Cassie's sad, troubled father; Maria Ouspenskaya, characteristically cast as Parris' wise and loving grandmother; and, in particular, Nancy Coleman as the hysterical Louise, the sexually repressed daughter of religious fanatics (Charles Coburn and Judith Anderson). The memorable score, by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, adds immeasurably to the mood.
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Still packs a wallop!
wbe312 December 2005
One of my ten favorite films of all time -- easily one of the top three -- is this classic Warners drama.

My hobby is collecting 16mm prints. On summer evenings, I enjoy hosting screenings in my back yard for my friends and friends of friends. One never knows how people will react to a 1940s black and white drama starring a cast of (save RR, to today's generation) unknowns and shot on a studio back lot. But nobody stirred for the 2+ hours. All eyes remained glued to the screen. And when the screen finally went dark, the entire crowd broke into a loud applause.

I love the films produced by Warners in the 1930s and 40s. How can you not enjoy the nostalgia of seeing Bogey or Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, watching Paul Henreid light a cigarette for Bette Davis? But the reality is that only a small percentage of those films hold up in their entirety today as they did when first released. Sixty years on, Kings Row hasn't aged a bit.
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Noteworthy but Flawed
lewis-5112 September 2010
Many people have already written reviews of this notable film, so I'll skip the plot summary. Most of the reviews are extremely positive. I'm afraid I can't be as laudatory, though I did enjoy the movie and it prompted me to write this.

There are some really fine acting performances. Unlike some, I like Robert Cummings. Yes, he is a bit "one note" as someone wrote, but I think that makes sense. Cummings has accurately portrayed a believable personality. Yes, I agree that Ronald Reagan was excellent. He almost becomes the lead role, and that's part of the problem with this movie. Ann Sheridan I would just say was good, not excellent. She does not deserve to have top billing in this movie. Maybe she was the best known star of the three main actors at that time, and she was given top billing for that reason. Betty Field as Cassandra was good, but overacted a bit in a difficult role. Claude Rains was excellent, as usual.

Two other actors deserve mention, even though they had lesser roles. I thought that the actress who played Louise (Nancy Coleman) was very convincing. And I thought the performance of Henry Davenport as Skeffington was remarkable. He really seemed to be a completely authentic lawyer from the 1890s. It's hard to believe that that was someone acting.

The basic situation and plot were intriguing. Sounds like the novel would be a good read. But the movie disappoints in several ways.

First, it is disjointed. Too many scenes happen quickly or end abruptly. For example, there is a scene about half way through where Parris and Duke are reading a journal of Dr. Tower, soon after someone important dies (don't want to get too specific here). Suddenly Parris says, "but I'm tired." Duke immediately jumps up and says "I'll get the light." He blows it out and they leave. That's just unreal. It's too abrupt. It's jarring. This sort of thing happens again and again.

Second, a major love interest of one of the main characters is introduced with only about 20 minutes to go. That is very awkward and off-putting. A veritable Deus ex machina.

Third, the movie builds up a major romance and conflict between Parris and Cassandra, only to have it suddenly resolved barely half way into the movie (again, don't want to get too specific). Really, the movie should have ended there. It's as if it were really two movies, parts I and II. It would have been better as two.

Fourth, the character of Randy, played by Ann Sheridan, is very briefly in the beginning of the movie as a child, then abruptly (there's that word again) reappears about half way through the movie and becomes a major character.

Fifth, comparatively minor but still jarring, the actresses playing Cassandra (Field) and Randy (Sheridan) looked amazingly alike. Maybe it would not have been so in color, but in black and white, I was astonished when Sheridan abruptly appeared in the middle of the movie and seemed to be Cassandra! Was this planned by the director?

So I appreciate the basic story. It's very creative. I appreciate the fine acting. But with so many flaws, I can rate it no higher than 7.

  • henry
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