The movie was adapted from the novel by Henry Bellamann which was published and became a bestseller in 1940. The movie, also, was commercially successful. It was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best B/W Cinematography but lost in all categories to the big wartime movie 'Mrs Miniver', directed by William Wyler.
The film is generally regarded as Ronald Reagan's best role. His dramatic scene where he exclaims: "Where's the rest of me?" is highly charged. Reagan's autobiography, first published in 1965, would be titled "Where's the rest of me?"
'Kings Row' is a high quality movie with a first rate cast, dealing cleverly with difficult adult themes in an entertaining way. Sam Wood's direction is smooth and unobtrusive and the black and white photography is gloriously rich. It is a wonderful film and even today the ending is still powerful and moving.
PlotThe story follows a group of five young people growing up in a seemingly idyllic midwestern community around the turn of the century. In the opening part we see them as innocent children, and then, ten years later as the adults they have become. The small town hides dark secrets and tragedy is never far away.
The movie focuses on the lives of Drake McHugh, played by Ronald Reagan, and Parris Mitchell, played by Robert Cummings and their relationships with the troubled and neurotic Cassandra 'Cassie' Tower, played by Betty Field, the beautiful Randy Monaghan, played by Ann Sheridan and doctor's daughter, Louise Gordon, played by Nancy Coleman.
We follow the ups and downs of their lives, beset by the social pressures of the day. They have to contend with insanity, sadistic medical practices, murder and inherited insanity and there is still room for an uplifting ending.
Henry Bellamann's novel "Kings Row" about small-town life at the turn of the century was published in 1940 and was an immediate bestseller despite. or, perhaps, because of, its scandalous contents. Bellamann had based the book on his own home town of Fulton, Missouri and although it was in part a tribute to American small town life in the previous century, it also brought into public consciousness such normally taboo subjects as incest, insanity, nymphomania, sadistic doctors and homosexuality.
Warner Brothers bought the movie rights for $35,000 amidst fierce competition from Twentieth-Century Fox and independent producer, David O. Selznick. The first problem to solve was making a screenplay acceptable to the censors of the day. Casey Robinson, a Warner Brothers contract writer who specialised in adaptations was brought in and did a first class job in creating a screenplay which avoided the worst excesses of the novel, in particular changing the father-daughter incest of the Towers family into inherited insanity.
Tyrone Power and Rex Downing (who had played Young Heathcliff in 'Wuthering Heights' in 1939) were originally considered for the pivotal role of Parris Mitchell. Power was already a well known leading man but was under contract to Twentieth-Century Fox who refused to lend him to Warner Bros. Eventually producer, Hal Wallis borrowed Robert Cummings from Universal Studios (where Cummings continued to film in 'It started with Eve' whilst making 'Kings Row).
A number of highly regarded actors were considered for the role of Drake McHugh including Robert Preston, Franchot Tone and John Garfield. Ronald Reagan was finally chosen and the role made him a star. It proved to be the highpoint of his career (acting career that is) as he was drafted into the army shortly afterwards and never fully regained the star status which 'Kings Row' gave him.
There were casting difficulties with the female leads, too. The role of Randy Monaghan was turned down by Ginger Rogers before going to the talented Ann Sheridan, one of Warners' top stars of the day. Whilst filming 'Kings Row' Sheridan was also working on another Warner Bros movie, 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'. Several top actresses turned down the role of Cassandra including Ida Lupino, Joan Leslie, and Olivia de Havilland. Filming began and continued for two months until Betty Field finally was offered and accepted the role.Music
The music of 'Kings Row', composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, has been described as one of the greatest film scores ever written. From the opening scenes when we see the participants as children, the sweeping lyrical string melody forms an essential partnership with the camera. The main theme became very popular and Ronald Reagan unsurprisingly, used it for both of his inaugurations in 1981 and 1985.
Main CastThe cast is a wonderful mixture of new young faces, and established stars together with a distinguished supporting cast of well known character actors.
Robert Cummings ... Parris Mitchell
Ronald Reagan ... Drake McHugh
Ann Sheridan ... Randy Monaghan
Betty Field ... Cassandra Tower
Charles Coburn ... Dr. Henry Gordon
Claude Rains ... Dr. Alexander Tower
Judith Anderson ... Mrs. Harriet Gordon
Nancy Coleman ... Louise Gordon
Kaaren Verne ... Elise Sandor
Maria Ouspenskaya ... Madame von Eln
Harry Davenport ... Colonel Skeffington
Ernest Cossart ... Pa Monaghan
Ilka Grüning ... Anna (as Ilka Gruning)
Pat Moriarity ... Tod Monaghan
Minor Watson ... Sam Winters
Robert Cummings (1910-90)
Cummings had a distinguished career in movies and television although he was criticised for a wooden performance as Parris in 'Kings Row'. He began his movie career in 1935 and had starring roles in a number of successful comedies including 'The Devil and Miss Jones' in 1941 with Jean Arthur, and 'The Bride Wore Boots' in 1946 with Barbara Stanwyck. He began a long television career in 1952, starring in many sitcoms including his own 'The Bob Cummings Show' for four years from 1955.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
Reagan surprised many critics with his fine performance as Drake McHugh, and his famous line "Where's the rest of me?" became the title of his 1965 autobiography. His subsequent film career never rose above 'B' movie status and after a successful television career he, perhaps wisely, concentrated on politics. He served two terms as California Governor, then two terms as President of the United States of America.
Ann Sheridan (1915-67)
Billed as the "Oomph Girl by Warner Bros", the glamorous Sheridan was a popular pinup girl and had several hit movies during the 1940's including 'I Was a Male War Bride' in 1949, with Cary Grant. Her movie career declined thereafter although she appeared regularly on television. She died of cancer in 1967, aged just 51.
Betty Field (1913-73)
Made her film debut in 1939 in 'Of Mice and Men' and alternated between Hollywood and Broadway, including roles in 'The Great Gatsby' in 1949 and 'Peyton Place' in 1957.
Charles Coburn (1877-1961)
A well known character actor on Broadway for many years, Coburn started in movies in 1937, at the age of sixty. He is best known for his work in comedies, and his role as the sadistic Doctor Gordon is unusually dark for him. Coburn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 1943's 'The More the Merrier'.
Claude Rains (1889-1967)
Whether as a psychiatrist in 'Now Voyager' or the immortal Captain in 'Casablanca' or as the mysterious Doctor Towers in 'Kings Row', Claude Rains always gives a high quality, polished performance. He was nominated on four occasions for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'Casablanca', 'Mr. Skeffington', and 'Notorious', but, surprisingly, never won.
Judith Anderson(1897-1992) An Australian actress who came to America in 1918, Anderson became a star during the 1940's and 1950's with memorable performances in such films as 'Rebecca' in 1940, 'Laura' in 1944 and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' in 1958.
CreditsDirector ... Sam Wood
Producer ... Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay ... Casey Robinson
Based on ... 1940 novel "Kings Row" by Henry Bellamann
Music ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography ... James Wong Howe
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... February 2, 1942
Running time ... 127 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Warner Bros.
Best Director ... Sam Wood
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White ... James Wong Howe