"Where's the Rest of Me?"

Kings Row is about a group of young people growing up in a small American town at the turn of the twentieth century. Released in 1942, it was based on a best–selling 1940 novel of the same title, written by Henry Bellamann and first published in 1940.

Ronald Regan played the orphaned but wealthy and fun–loving Drake McHugh, who is the best friend and love rival of the central character, Parris Mitchell – played by Robert Cummings.

The plot thickens when the trust fund that provides Drake's income is stolen by a dishonest bank official. Drake is forced to work locally for the railroad, and his legs are injured in an accident when tiles fall on him. His legs are amputated by the surgeon, Dr. Gordon, who happens to be the father of the girl that Drake and Parrish are both in love with; and it's when Drake wakes up to discover this that he speaks the immortal line. (It later turns out that Dr. Gordon had amputated Drake's legs unnecessarily, because he hated Drake and thought it was his duty to punish wickedness.)

Wikipedia describes how "The pivotal scene in which Drake McHugh wakes up to find his legs amputated posed an acting challenge for Reagan ... [journalist and author] Otto Friedrich noted that [it was Reagan's] 'one great opportunity.' Reagan recalled in his memoir that he had 'neither the experience nor talent to fake it,' so he undertook exhaustive research, talking to people with disabilities, and doctors and practicing the line every chance he got.

"On the night before the scene was shot he had little sleep, so he looked suitably worn out, and [director] Sam Wood shot the scene without rehearsal. He called out for [his girlfriend] Randy, which was not in the script, but Ann Sheridan was there and responded. The scene was effective and there was no need for another take."

Kings Row did well at the box office and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, but it was one of nine films (including The Magnificent Ambersons and Yankee Doodle Dandy) that lost out to Mrs. Miniver. Reagan's performance made him a star; his Warner Brothers salary was raised from $1,000 to $3,000 a week. For his next film, Desperate Journey, he received top billing along with Errol Flynn, but then he was drafted into the US Army to serve in World War II. After his return to Hollywood in 1947, he never regained the star status that his performance in Kings Row had earned him.

Reagan described Kings Row as 'a slightly sordid but moving yarn' that 'made me a star.' He considered it his best film, as did most film critics.

Reagan used his famous line as the title of his autobiography, which was published in 1965 to coincide with his successful run for the governorship of California.

© Haydn Thompson 2022