All Aboard!

Bodega Bay, Peyton Place, Derry, Tree Hill, Winesburg, Twin Peaks…Kings Row

Original Cast: Robert Cummings, Anne Sheridan, Ronald Reagan.

Original Cast: Robert Cummings, Anne Sheridan, Ronald Reagan.

Small Town, America…you know the drill… 

I really like Kings Row (1942). Anne Sheridan is compelling as unconventional, independent Randy Monaghan, while as charming, small-town playboy Drake McHugh, Ronald Reagan gives his best movie performance. As pivotal character, Parris Mitchell, Robert Cummings manages to hang on to the complicated leading role. The large ensemble cast that populates their classic small town: Claude Raines, Charles Coburn, Betty Field, Judith Anderson, and Maria Ouspenskaya is Studio System casting at its best

Eric Wolfgang Korngold composed the musical soundtrack while screening the film; consequently his music develops as each scene develops. Influenced by Wagnerian leitmotifs, Korngold’s “Main Theme” is echoed and varied throughout the film, morphing into hymn at the final fade. Korngold’s name is not celebrated. Most film composers’ names don’t become household words and Korngold’s moniker rings as theatrical as Broadway musical hero, Jubilation T. Cornpone. But make no mistake when you hear the name…Korngold was a child prodigy, brilliant musician, classical music composer, and symphonic orchestra conductor in Vienna—the world’s musical capital before The Great War—as well as among the first composers of international stature to compose Hollywood scores. Korngold wrote scores for 16 Hollywood films, and expanded their scope to re-define film soundtracks. When explaining his aesthetic, Korngold said he composed his scores as Operas without singing. 

Nonetheless, the gorgeously photographed and scored black-and-white Kings Row is pushing 75 years old—that’s even older than I am—and so both story and movie demand and deserve a modern perspective without the original’s interference from Joseph Breen and the Hays Office. 

First things first, let’s keep that iconic score—but adapt it to our time, just as composer Korngold adapted nineteenth century symphonic Mendelssohn and Liszt compositions for his groundbreaking twentieth century soundtracks. Out of the gate, harness the energy of a high-voltage director. Definitely go color. With a big Budget. And lavish production design. Make it an Amazon or Netflix production with an expanded running time. Retain the epic scope on screen, but in the remake, hose down the “Acting with a capital A”, particularly the child actor’s Acting, so it need no longer vie with the plot for our attention. Bottom line, cast one hell of a star-power-on-steroids leading man not just to carry but also to drive the controversial, mercurial tale of social hypocrisy, incest, murder-suicide, euthanasia, and sadistic mutilation counterpointed with pastoral innocence, idealism, courage, and friendship. 

Dream-remake cast:   Finn Wittrock, Emma Stone, and   Billy Magnussen.

Dream-remake cast: Finn Wittrock, Emma Stone, and Billy Magnussen.

My dream remake? Bennett Miller (Capote [2005] and Foxcatcher [2014]) directs the sobering, choreographed, small-town-America epic. Emma Stone is Randy Monaghan; this leading lady is a modern woman navigating Middle America at the dawn of the twentieth century and Stone would be perfect casting. Billy Magnussen is Drake McHugh. Talk about irresistible charm: in Sondheim’s Into The Woods (2014) on screen, Magnussen surfaces as leading man among coy Chris Pine, aging Johnny Depp, and saccharine James Cordon overacting so unbearably on every side of him that they could sink a high-school-auditorium production of the musical. 

At the center of the remake? Kings Row needs an actor who can fuel the narrative, an actor who can galvanize Parris Mitchell into a hero galactic enough to launch Kings Row from last century’s melodrama into tomorrow’s storytelling stratosphere. Several years ago, I witnessed Finn Wittrock on stage in the thankless role of second son, Happy Loman, genteelly run away with each and every scene in the Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman; later in a supporting role on film, Wittrock discretely stole his every scene from the featured actors, including hungry sharks, in Unbroken (2014). And with absolutely no subtlety—even when paired with formidable actor, Matt Bomer—in American Horror Story on television, Wittrock firmly stood his ground scene to scene, charismatic frame for frame, compelling shot by shot, all fine and Dandy. Finn Witrock is Parris Mitchell.