Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


"Where's the rest of me?" Ann Sheridan &  Ronald Reagan
KINGS ROW (1942). Director: Sam Wood.

"He went to a place in my heart that was waiting for him."

Small-town boys and buddies Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) have misadventures and romantic entanglements; a climactic crisis develops when the latter loses his legs in the movie's most famous sequence. When Warner Brothers decided to do an adaptation of Henry Bellamann's controversial novel -- the Peyton Place of its day -- they first had to bowdlerize it to please the production code, then made grievous mistakes in casting and choosing the director. Although Sam Wood had directed a few "serious" films before, his best movies were comedies like the magnificent "A Night at the Opera," and he wasn't a wise choice for this particular production. While actors such as Bob Cummings, Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan could be perfectly swell in lighter parts, and are competent enough in Kings Row, they are hardly the best choices for the leads, giving the film a hollow center. But worse, the movie is talky and ponderous and its "big" moments don't really work at all. Charles Coburn is given one of his most loathsome characterizations after In This Our Life and Claude Rains doesn't even have a real character to play as the movie removed the incestuous relationship between him and his daughter (Betty Field); he now kills her and then himself because she wanted to leave home and was "mental" -- what a guy! The most powerful and haunting sequence in the movie has nothing to do with the main storyline but shows a miserable little boy, Willie, weeping hysterically on a stoop as his father, being operated on without anesthetic, screams out from the house behind him. Willie was played by the talented child actor, Henry Blair [in fact it might be said that the other child actors, Scotty Beckett and Douglas Croft, who play Parris and Drake as boys, out-act their adult counterparts. The following year Croft was the first actor to play Robin in the Batman serial.] The best thing about the movie is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's  theme music: it's a good thing it's so beautiful because it's repeated and repeated and repeated throughout the movie. Scripter Casey Robinson contributed some decent dialogue but it's generally mouthed by the wrong actors. The improbable ending suffers from its being rushed as well as from Reagan's insufficient acting.

Verdict: Listen to the opening credits, wait for Willie's scene, and then turn it off. **.

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