Back at the turn of the last century, Kings Row was thought to be a picture-perfect small town. But just like Peyton Place and Twin Peaks, Kings Row has got a very dark side. The movie begins in 1890 when all the main characters are just children. Parris Mitchell (Robert Cummings) and Drake McHugh (Ronald Reagan) are best friends and some of the rich kids in town. Parris wants to be a doctor when he grows up and is sweet on Cassandra Tower (Betty Field). Cassandra is the daughter of Dr. Alexander Tower (Claude Rains), who pulls her out of school under very mysterious circumstances. Parris doesn’t see her again until he returns to Kings Row as an adult to study medicine with her father, but he never forgets her.
When he returns to Kings Row, he’s also reunited with his old best friend, Drake. Drake is ready to propose to Louise Gordon (Nancy Coleman), daughter of the town’s other doctor, Henry Gordon (Charles Coburn). However, Dr. Gordon refuses to let him marry Louise, which absolutely devastates Louise. However, Drake quickly finds solace in another childhood friend, Randy Monaghan (Ann Sheridan). Meanwhile, Parris has been quite busy. His studies have been going very well and he’s set to be going to medical school in Vienna soon. He’s also started a secret affair with Cassandra, but he’s also had to deal with his grandmother dying of cancer. Before he leaves for Vienna, Cassandra begs him to take her with him, but there’s nothing romantic about it, she seems terrified of something. The next day, both Cassandra and Dr. Tower are dead. After Parris starts reading Dr. Tower’s notebook, he finally finds out why she was pulled out of school all those years ago.
Parris leaves for Vienna and life is great for him there. He decides to go into psychiatry and he proves to be a first-rate student. When he’s done with school, he’s offered a job with the school. But things haven’t been so great for Drake. He lost all his money in a bank scandal and the only job he could get was at the railroad yard. Unfortunately, he is injured in an accident and Dr. Gordon amputates both of his legs. Drake becomes deeply depressed, but at least he’s got a good caretaker in Randy, who never leaves his side. She even marries him after the accident. When Parris finds out about the accident, he takes a leave of absence to return to Kings Row. As soon as he gets back to town, he is called to Louise’s house by her mother. Her mother is concerned about her mental state, but when he talks to Louise, he finds out some very disturbing details about her father. Details that directly relate to Drake’s accident. Now Parris is stuck in an ethical quandary. If Drake found out the truth, it could potentially destroy him even further. But the only way he could make sure the truth would never come out would be to have Louise committed to a mental institution, where she’d surely face a lifetime of horrid conditions.
If you liked Peyton Place, then Kings Row is right up your alley. They’re both all about exploring the darker side of seemingly idyllic small towns, only Kings Row focuses on a male friendship instead of a mother-daughter relationship. I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Kings Row just because I’ve always been pretty “meh” about Ronald Reagan as an actor. But I’ve got to admit that I loved this movie. The whole cast is fantastic; I even actually really liked Ronald Reagan in it. But the most surprising performance to me was from Charles Coburn. I always associate Coburn with more lighthearted roles like the ones he had in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The More the Merrier, so seeing him playing an incredibly dark, sinister character was definitely a change, but he sure was amazing. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time in this movie, but he made the most of the time he did get. I’d say this is a “must see” kind of movie.