Set in 1890, the movie King’s Row deals with the field of psychiatry, which was just beginning to be recognized at that time. The actual movie was released in 1942. I was born in 1950, and still at that time, psychiatry was a bit of a hush-hush affair. Early in the movie, a recognized physician spoke to the young Parris Mitchell about the field of psychiatry:
Dr. Tower: Oh, have you read this?
Parris: Yes, sir. I didn’t understand it entirely, I’m afraid.
Dr. Tower: Well, it’s a new field. They’ve even a new word for it: psychiatry.
Parris: It’s something I never thought about. I mean, for a doctor to want to cure diseases of people’s minds instead of their bodies. I suppose it’s a pretty big field, sir.
Dr. Tower: Maybe too big. … In the 13th Century, man was happier and more comfortable in his world than he is now. I’m speaking of psychic man and his relationship with his whole universe.
Parris: I get it, sir. Everything was so simple then
Dr. Tower: That was it, Parris. That was it. But in this modern complicated world, man breaks down under the strain, the bewilderment, disappointment, and disillusionment. He gets lost, goes crazy, commits suicide. I don’t know what’s going to happen to this world in the next hundred years or so, but I can guarantee you life isn’t going to get any simpler. Worry and doubt bring on a bellyache. Mankind’s building up the biggest psychic bellyache in history.
As I heard the above words spoken in the movie, I thought to myself that they have proven to have been prophetic. I have just watched King’s Row, and I believe that I would have liked it, regardless of the subject matter. It is simply one of those great 1940’s movies that the viewer can easily categorize, within minutes of its having getting started.
King’s Row also deals with other themes. As the movie opens, the elderly grandmother of Parris is dying, Two old gentlemen say the following: “[Referring to the dying Madame von Eln] When she passes, how much passes with her! – a whole way of life, a way of gentleness and honor and dignity. These things are going, Henry, and they may never come back to this world.”
I am writing my memoir now, and the thing that has most motivated me is that I, too–even half a century later–am moved by the parts of history and my family that I see dying around myself. An older age is always passing away, and I guess that will always be a popular movie theme.
Both Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan are principals in the movie King’s Row, and it may have been the best role that each of them played.
Ronald Reagan plays the part of a young man who suffers one travesty after another. In the beginning of the movie, he loves the daughter of a “respectable” doctor, who thinks that Reagan is too wild and therefore unsuitable for his daughter. Later, this “respectable” doctor maims Reagan’s character permanently and then threatens to have his daughter committed to an insane asylum, if she does not agree to hush about what he had done.
The concept of insanity plays into the film in a variety of ways. For instance, Parris elects to study psychiatry in Vienna. Its treatment of psychiatry does not make or break the film, but it does play its part. I like several 1940’movies that have the same flavor as King’s Row. I do believe that this movie deserves its Oscar nomination.
©Jacki Kellum February 15, 2015
P.S. about the theme of psychiatry:
Now, it is 2016, 64 years after the release of Kings Row, and during the past half century, psychiatry has become a well-respected field of medicine. As I said before, I believe that in its treatment of psychiatry, the movie was prophetic. Check out the following statistics about one psychiatric problem today, Depression:
Who Is Affected by Depression?
- Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27) …
- As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression. (Center for Mental Health Services, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1996)…
- Depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 reported suicides in the U.S. each year. (White House Conference on Mental Health, 1999)
- For every two homicides committed in the United States, there are three suicides. The suicide rate for older adults is more than 50% higher than the rate for the nation as a whole. Up to two-thirds of older adult suicides are attributed to untreated or misdiagnosed depression. (American Society on Aging, 1998)
- Untreated depression is the number one risk for suicide among youth. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-olds and the fourth leading cause of death in 10 to 14-year-olds. Young males age 15 to 24 are at highest risk for suicide, with a ratio of males to females at 7:1. (American Association of Suicidology, 1996)