Kings Row is “a good town. A good clean town. A good town to live in and a good place to raise your children.” But is it as perfect as it seems?
Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings), Cassandra Tower (Betty Field), Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan), Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman), and Randy Monaghan (Ann Sheridan) are five young people growing up in Kings Row. All come from different backgrounds, and all experience the town differently.
Cassie is made an outcast as rumors fly about her mother, who is said to be kept locked in a room in the Tower house. Parris is dealing with the reality of the illness of his grandmother, his guardian and only immediate, living relative. Louise feels oppressed by her father’s rigid moralizing. Randy is from “the other side of the tracks,” the daughter of a railroad worker.
As the teens grow up to graduate from high school and plan their futures, their bonds are tested. And as the cracks in the idyllic Kings Row facade begin to reveal themselves, some find their fate more secure than others.
Kings Row was directed by Sam Wood. The screenplay was written by Casey Robinson from a novel by Henry Bellamann.
I would describe Kings Row as a darker version of Our Town, or an earlier and more tame Peyton Place. Pulling back the curtain on small-town America, this is a melodrama of the complications that hide beneath the surface of prosperous, cheerful towns. And melodramatic it certainly is, with sweeping music and the whole nine yards!
The film takes a few wild turns as it explores the coming-of-age of these characters. Family tragedies, railroad accidents, accusations, and threats run wild along Kings Row’s tree-lined streets. While I won’t reveal the details of any of the subplots, I will say that in many cases, the film seems eager to explore the issue of mental health and psychological treatment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t dig deep enough to provide substantial commentary on the issue.
With the script having its share of obvious weaknesses, the film’s strongest asset is its cast. Claude Raines and Charles Coburn are predictably strong in their supporting roles. Betty Field gives a performance that’s slightly over-the-top, suiting her character’s tragic arc. Robert Cummings is solid, Ann Sheridan very spirited in her role. Even Ronald Reagan gives one of the better performances I’ve seen from him.
If you’re a fan of small-town stories and American dysfunction, Kings Row is worth a look. It won’t be landing on my “favorite discoveries” list for the year, but it kept me occupied, and as a fan of several of the performers involved, I found it to be a decent watch.