Anyone who has ever dismissed Ronald Reagan as a "B-movie" actor has only to see him in King's Row to realize that he was perfectly capable of being an "A-movie" actor. In Reagan's case, I do not think that it was a question of mediocre talent but rather of having the right material and the kind of director who could command a superb performance. Sam Wood was one such director, and the 1942 film, based upon Henry Bellaman's novel of the same name, afforded the dramatic setting in which Reagan could shine.
Set in a small Missouri town in the early 1900's, King's Row explores many issues which have come to haunt modern times, specifically the power and authority of the medical profession over people's lives. It emphasizes that being a physician is a vocation in which the highest integrity is absolutely indispensable. Without a moral compass, the medical profession is doomed to barbarity.
In spite of the idyllic appearance of the town, it is haunted by a sadistic doctor who sees himself ordained to punish sinners, as long as the sinners in question are too poor and obscure to defend themselves. Ronald Reagan portrays "Drake," the charming, lackadaisical rascal of the town, whom the sadist Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn) chooses to castigate in a particularly grotesque manner. Reagan's interpretation of Drake's response to the horror which befalls him is one of the most powerful moments in classic cinema.
Drake is the boyhood friend of the protagonist "Parris," played by Robert Cummings, and the brotherly bond between them is a beautiful portrayal of true friendship. Meanwhile, the neurotic women in their lives bring with them situations fraught with dark secrets, except for Parris' grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya) and Drake's girlfriend (Ann Sheridan) who bring hope and balance. The Ann Sheridan character "Randy Monaghan" is supposed to be Catholic, and the scene in which she murmurs "O Blessed Mother of God!" is profoundly moving.
Ultimately, Parris, who becomes a doctor himself, is faced with a moral dilemma in which he must choose to use his medical credentials to save or to destroy. His new friend, a lovely Viennese girl, leads him to the light, and the darkness which threatens to overwhelm the characters is overcome. Share