Friday, May 18, 2012

Kings Row. 1942

Chances are good that if you mentioned the name of director Sam Wood to someone, you would be met with a blank stare.  But it turns out that Wood was responsible for some big box office hits of Hollywood’s golden years not too mention some of the most entertaining ones. Films of his included A Day At The Races, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Devil And Miss Jones, Pride of The Yankees, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Our Town  and 1942’s Kings Row. Based on a big novel about small town life at the beginning of the 20th century by Henry Bellamann, and I guess you could look at it as a precursor to Peyton Place. It included all sorts of issues that one would think would make it impossible to film in 1942. The novel included incest, insanity, nymphomania, sadism and homosexuality all of which were taboo topics back in 1942 when Warner Bros. tackled the making of this film.  Watered down somewhat, and with much of the forbidden subjects either played down or totally eliminated, (the sadism element is in the film),  the movie  still had enough implied  hot and forbidden stuff  behind its closed doors to hold 1940’s movie goers in rapt attention. The film opens with a beautiful traveling shot of children leaving school in the small town of Kings Row and we are soon introduced to the four young leads who will later grow up and become the main characters of the piece. Some of the dark secrets are also hinted at in this early part of the film nestled among the bucolic setting of small town life which will later hang in the air with dire consequences for all concerned. The cast was good, and especially fine were Ronald Reagan, (yes Ronald Reagan)  Ann Sheridan (ah Ann) and Betty Field all of whom have strong, indelible moving moments and scenes including Reagan’s famous where’s the rest of me bit.  The only actor who falls way too short is Robert Cummings who was not capable of bringing much depth or shading to the lead role of Parris Mitchell. It’s a shame that they didn’t cast an actor with more charisma in this part. Originally Tyrone Power was talked about, but his home studio 20th Century Fox balked at this idea and would not let him do it, a shame because he would have been far more believable and infinitely more attractive in the role than Cummings.  The film is beautiful to look at with great cinematography by James Wong Howe and classy set design by the great William Cameron Menzies. Also of note is the brilliant and memorable score by  Erich Wolfgang Korngold and I couldn’t help picking out parts of the score that reminded me of John Williams’s score for Star Wars, and made me think Mr. Williams was strongly influenced by it. The marvelous supporting cast included  Claude Raines, Charles Colburn, Judith Anderson and Maria Ouspenskaya. The ending which is somewhat abrupt and hokey doesn’t take away from this example of elegant Hollywood movie making at its very best.  Nominated for 3 Oscars including one for best picture of 1942.   


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