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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kings Row (1942)

At the turn of the 20th century, life in a small American town (the entrance to the town reads, "A good town and a good place to raise your children") is put under a microscope. What we find under the wholesome veneer, however, is sadism, insanity and larceny. Due to the censorship of the times, the novel's incest angle has been eliminated entirely. Directed by Sam Wood (A NIGHT AT THE OPERA) from the best seller by Henry Bellamann, this was a forerunner to films like PEYTON PLACE which examined small town hypocrisy. It's a tantalizing, juicy piece of melodrama. Alas, the film is horribly compromised by the two male leads, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan, two of the blandest actors of Hollywood's so called Golden Age. Reagan actually rises to the occasion several times but Cummings' performance is appalling! The film's last ten minutes are dreadful, the kind that give classic movies a bad name. Fortunately, the slack is picked up by three of the film's actresses. Betty Field as the doomed Cassandra who dominates the first hour, Ann Sheridan as the feisty girl from the wrong side of the tracks who dominates the second hour and Nancy Coleman as the daughter of a sadistic surgeon (Charles Coburn) who is driven to the brink of madness. The terrific score (whose main theme influenced John Williams' STAR WARS) theme is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. With Claude Rains, Judith Anderson, Kaaren Verne, Maria Ouspenskaya, Harry Davenport and Scotty Beckett.

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