Kings Row (1942)

Kings Row (1942), directed by Sam Wood.

A dark toned soap opera set around 1900, a sort of Peyton Place (1957) tale of embezzlement, insanity, sadism, murder and suicide beneath a small town facade.

According to the wikipedia article, the book had to be drastically toned down. No mercy killing, gay themes, nude swimming, and much less sex all around. Still, for people familiar with the book (as people often were in those days) much of this is suggested in a code-compliant way that makes the film a bit better than it might otherwise be. You see similar efforts in The Big Sleep (1946) where readers of the book recognize little sister Carmen's psychosis and drug addiction and the subplot with the pornographic book store.

Here we see that Drake (Ronald Reagan) is a cheerful character who knows a lot of women, but is also intimate with Parris (Robert Cummings). In Betty Field's haunted performance we have a victim of incest, locked up up at home for years by her scary father, Claude Rains.

Rains is such a reliable actor of the period that I sometimes forget how fine he can be. Look at his sad, corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), one of the best parts of that film.

Neither Reagan nor Cummings are very strong actors, and Parris is too timid a character to be a satisfying lead. The women are better, particularly Ann Sheridan as Randy from the wrong side of the tracks.

We have Reagan's famous "Where's the rest of me!" scene where he wakes up to find both legs unnecessarily amputated by sadistic doctor Charles Coburn, more sinister than I have seen him before.

Cummings recites "Invictus" and we have an improbably joyful ending.

Not well-liked at the time (who needs such a downer during WW2?) but critics appreciate it more in retrospect. I'm somewhere in the middle. It's a soap opera.

Korngold score, with James Wong Howe on the camera.