Thursday, February 7, 2013

1942 - Kings Row

For the first time in a long time, I actually have some spare time, which increases the chances of more movies being reviewed for this blog. Time will tell...

It also allowed me to cram in a bunch of the current awards season's movies before I missed the deadline to vote in the SAG awards. Still a few more Oscar contenders to see, but I've caught up a little bit.

The most fascinating aspect of this awards season is Argo's domination of the major awards so far. Since its director, Ben Affleck, was left off the Academy's Best Director shortlist, that seemed to close the door on the film winning Best Picture, yet it has won the main gongs at the Critic's Choice, Golden Globe and Producer's Guild ceremonies. Plus, it won the SAG's Ensemble award and Affleck himself took out the Director's Guild's top prize. Quite the conundrum.

More on this year's Oscars in the next couple of weeks, but for now, on to the next review, which is another nominee from the 1942 Best Picture race...

Kings Row
Sam Wood
Casey Robinson
(based on the novel by Henry Bellamann)
Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Betty Field, Charles Coburn, Claude Rains, Judith Anderson, Nancy Coleman, Kaaren Verne, Maria Ouspenskaya, Harry Davenport
Academy Awards:
3 nominations
0 wins

It's almost impossible to outline the plot of Kings Row without using major spoilers, mostly because so many life-changing events happen to each of the characters, but I'll give it a try. In the small town of Kings Row in the late nineteenth century, a young boy named Parris Mitchell spends his free time getting to know pretty outcast Cassie. Her father, Dr. Tower (Rains), unexpectedly removes Cassie from school and confines her to their house. Years later, the adult Parris (Cummings), now studying to be a psychiatrist under the tutelage of Dr. Tower, begins a secret obstacle-laden love affair with Cassie (Field), who is still essentially homebound. Meanwhile, Parris' best friend, suave rich kid Drake (Reagan), also struggles to build a lasting relationship with another doctor's daughter Louise (Coleman). Her father, Dr. Gordon (Coburn), forbids the relationship, so Drake eventually falls for ex-tomboy Randy (Sheridan). 

The aforementioned life-changers help to make Kings Row quite a captivating story, full of mystery and a fair share of twists and turns. There's love, there's a near-fatal accident, there's murder. And if that weren't enough for this cast of characters to deal with, they all seem to be mortified of getting a bad reputation. Whether it's from mental illness, physical disability, or associating with a lower class, it's all about keeping up appearances for this bunch and not subjecting their name or their family's name to any perceived shame. Sort of like a Merchant-Ivory film, but without the accents or the sumptuous sets and costumes.

Erich Korngold's score for Kings Row is grand and evocative, adding greatly to the film's appeal. As I listened to it, I immediately heard a striking similarity to John Williams' legendary Star Wars main theme. The first phrase of both films' themes are almost identical, as one YouTube user has also pointed out. However, the music is clearly where the similarity between this film and the sci-fi blockbuster ends.

As an old-fashioned Hollywood movie, Kings Row does contain some old-fashioned Hollywood dialogue. Consequently, some of the performances occasionally feel cheesy or melodramatic, but in a way, this style suits the larger than life story well. Indeed, by the end of the film, it's hard to even notice. The one exception to the hamminess is Claude Rains, whose portrayal of the strict Dr. Tower is subtle and fascinating. Also worthy of mention is future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who is lively and charming as Drake.


  1. I actually watched King's Row last August when it aired on TCM, so my memory of it is already lacking in details. Your review Matt, however, sums it up excellently. While it may be a sanitized version of the novel, it has more than its share of social class warfare with murder/suicide, sadism, mental illness and other sordid goings-on. With a cast that was probably considered B list at least as far as the lead roles, I thought they all did a pretty fine job. It has long been considered Ronald Reagan's best work as an actor (although I also liked him as a heavy in the remake of The Killers.)

  2. It's not a B-list cast due to the presence of the superlative Ann Sheridan, one of the forties best actresses!