A seemingly quiet Midwestern town is the hiding place for a number of sordid secrets in this melodrama based on Henry Bellamann's best-selling novel. Parris Mitchell (Scotty Beckett) is a young boy growing up in the town of King's Row, where he becomes close friends with Cassandra (Mary Thomas), a quiet girl who isn't popular with the other children. Parris is also friends with Louise (Joan Duvalle), a rich girl who looks down on others; Drake (Douglas Croft), a good-natured but self-centered type; and Randy (Ann Todd), a girl with a wild tomboy streak. It's a testimony to Parris' character when Cassandra and Louise both invite him to parties on the same day and he decides to go to Cassandra's, because he's not sure who else might be there for her. However, his friendship with her begins to fade after her father, local psychiatrist Dr. Tower (Claude Rains), decides to withdraw her from public school and tutor her at home instead. Years later, Parris (now played by Robert Cummings) is a promising medical student studying psychiatry with Dr. Tower, and while he's stayed in contact with Cassandra (now played by Betty Field), she remains at a curious emotional distance from those around her. Randy (now played by Ann Sheridan) romances Drake (now played by Ronald Reagan), who has inherited a fortune and is living the high life to the fullest. However, Drake is also involved with Louise (Nancy Coleman), who is not allowed much of a social life by her father, Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn), and she fears that the more outgoing Randy will steal Drake away from her. When Parris decides to travel to Europe to further his studies, Cassandra asks if she can join him; he's not keen on the idea, but he considers it. He is then shocked to learn that Cassandra has been killed by her father after he learned that she was with child, shortly before taking his own life. Drake, meanwhile, loses his money through a series of unfortunate circumstances and is forced to take a job with the railroad; when he is injured at work, he's taken to Dr. Gordon for treatment. However, the doctor never approved of Drake's romance with Louise and was even more upset when he decided to leave her for Randy; in retaliation, Dr. Gordon amputates Drake's legs, even though his condition in no way justified it. Meanwhile, Parris comes back from Europe and makes the acquaintance of a local resident, Dr. Sandor (Erwin Kalser), while becoming infatuated with his daughter, Elise (Kaaren Verne). He also learns of Dr. Gordon's shocking mutilation of Drake, who is determined to somehow live a normal life despite it all, with Randy by his side. Kings Row was nominated for three Academy Awards (including Best Picture of 1943), and is generally conceded to feature the best performance of Ronald Reagan's Hollywood career; he titled his autobiography Where's the Rest of Me?, after the key line of his most memorable (and challenging) scene in the picture.
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~ Mark Deming, Rovi