Thursday, March 19, 2009


I never saw this movie or had much interest in seeing it, mostly because I always associated it with Ronald Reagan and he was a pretty bad movie actor resulting in most of the movies he had a starring role in being pretty bad.

But I stumbled on it last night just as it was starting and when I saw Ann Sheridan was in it, an old favorite, and Robert Cummings, another old favorite (mostly from his 1950s TV show), I thought what the heck.

It’s highly melodramatic and full of archetypes rather than fully rounded characters, but despite all that, it’s an amazing movie and I was wrong to ignore it all these years.

The black-and-white cinematography (which won an Oscar for James Wong Howe) is beautiful, the story is melodramatic but nonetheless gripping and cathartic in the best ways drama can be.

Ann Sheridan is her usual terrific self, and all the supporting actors are top level Hollywood studio character players, completely dependable, nothing but excellent work among them all.

Cummings is actually miscast as the studious, dedicated, brilliant yet humble grandson and friend. He does it as well as can be expected I guess from an actor whose main assets were his devilish charm and sarcasm in a role where he couldn’t display either.

But Reagan is the true revelation. He gives an entirely believable portrait of the devilish sarcastic one who turns out to be a straight shooter with deep character and courage.

It’s a delight to see him finally (for me) really give a screen-worthy performance that engages and entertains in ways that are as big and as compelling as the big screen demands.

Every other thing I’ve seen him in, including the “Gipper” role, have moments of veracity, but mostly he comes across as self-conscious, or even worse, completely unaware. Not this role. He owns it.

I found the flick to be wholly satisfying despite its flaws and overcooked hysteria. One of those kinds of movie experiences you can only get (or at least me) from classic Hollywood. Thank God for Turner Classic Movies.


JIm said...

That is the first complement that I have seen you pay to Ronald Reagan. Kings Row must be some movie. I will have to look it up.

RJ Eskow said...

I agree: Reagan is first-rate in that movie. I think he recognized it as his finest acting moment. Don't forget, he used a line of dialog from it for the title of his biography: "But where's the rest of me?"

Curtis Faville said...

Reagan is an interesting study. We tend now to think of him in his final decade and a half, an addled, confused, old phony mouthing platitudes and shrugging off doubt.

But as a contract player, he was perfectly serviceable, and just happened to outlive his usefulness--as did dozens (hundreds?) of other veterans of the studio system of the Thirties and Forties.

Then he walked right into another career as a spokesman, and then politician. He brought both off with aplomb. His political agenda wrecked his first marriage, apparently, but he moved right past that, undeterred.

I hated the man's politics, and always thought I was watching a spineless man without any scruples play up to the rich and famous. He used his acting skills to seduce others, eventually even himself. Self-delusion on a grand scale. At the end of his life, he was still the ambitious young radio announcer from Illinois, trying to get ahead--he never developed as a person, or as an actor.

But you have to hand it to him--he succeeded at almost everything he tried.

What a jerk, though.