Filmsite Movie Review
Kings Row (1942)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Parris' Troubling and Deeply Emotional Visit with Cassie:

During a violent thunderstorm with lightning and wind, filmed with expressionistic shadows across the frame, Parris was on his way home. He raced through the downpour to the Tower home to retrieve his forgotten notebooks. At a lighted window, he looked into the side study - and saw Cassie's bare legs propped up on an ottoman, as she was reading a book. He knocked on the window to alert her. It was their first opportunity for a conversation since their childhood days - because her father was away in St. Louis. She asked Drake to sit next to her: "Over here, by me." Drake described how they hadn't really spoken, but how he was drawn to her: "All the time I've been coming to study with your father, I'd been hoping I'd see you." She acknowledged her father's restrictions: "It'll probably be the only time....I can't see anyone, ever. Don't you know that?" Parris was unable to learn the reason why.

Cassie asked about his daily routine - and Parris described his simple life: "I just read and study and practice, that's all." Cassie said she also mostly read and studied, but was totally socially-isolated: "I never see people. I just read books." Any of Parris' prying questions about her father brought uneasiness, agitation and fear to Cassie's face, such as the reason for her homeschooling at such a young age. And then Parris described his idealized memories about his childhood sweetheart Cassie - tears welled up in her eyes as she listened:

"I kept remembering. Little things. How you'd trot along the road with me home from school. The way you had of tilting your head when you'd look up. The color that the sun made your hair when you said, 'I like to be your girl. I guess you're my sweetheart, too.' That's the way I thought of you most of the time. Then sometimes I'd remember you were growing up, too. Why, you were 16, now 18. Then I'd wonder what you were doing, right then, at that moment. Were you sewing or studying your lessons or crying or could you be laughing? Could you be laughing when I was thinking so hard about you - and feeling so terrible?...

You are pretty, Cassie. Really you are. You're prettier than you ever have been, and you always have been the prettiest girl in town."

He kissed her hand - she welcomed his passion and was also scared to death, but she was able to overcome her inhibitions and they kissed each other. She pulled away and lightning struck as they called out each other's names - realizing their love for each other. She turned out the light, closed the door, and returned for another embrace and kiss. Melodramatic flashes of lightning illuminated their forbidden love.

[Note: Censorship and Code restrictions neglected to show the off-screen sexual consummation of their love.]

Much later that same evening, Parris walked over to Drake's nearby house, awakened him, and asked to spend the night. Drake was suspicious: "Hey, something's happened and you'd better tell me what it is," but Parris was unwilling to share personal secrets. Drake guessed that Parris had lost his virginity:

"For Pete's sake, you!...And I've been saying I'd take you around and show you the ropes! Well, for Pete's sake!"

Homo-erotic overtones between the two men were revealed when Drake welcomed Parris into his bed, right after he had his first sexual experience with Cassie: "Come on, pile into bed. Of course, you'll have to bunk with me."

Premonitions of Death - Thoughts About Parris' Dying Grandmother:

As a result of his surreptitious love affair with Cassie, Parris's demeanor changed - noticed by housemaid Anna: "All the time he comes in, then he goes out. He wanders all over the place, absent-minded and just looks at things." Grandmother Marie sensed the real reason: "Maybe there is a girl." Anna added that change was about to bring uncertainty to everyone: "I think he feels change. I think he's afraid something is to happen and he doesn't understand."

She was referring to the Madame's heavily-guarded secret that she was dying (later diagnosed as cancer) - deliberately kept from Parris to spare him pain:

"He mustn't know, Anna....Don't cry, Anna, for me. It will be worse for him. My troubles are almost over and his are just beginning. Growing up is so difficult, Anna. The disappointments and the heartbreaks. The frightening problems. The meannesses and the cruelties of the world. How often I have wished that his mother be lived, or his father. Or that I were his mother. It isn't fair that a young boy should be brought up by an old woman who will leave him when he needs her most. What's going to happen to him?...I've done my best to make him into a gentleman. And my best to provide for his future. For the rest, everything must be pleasant for him until he goes away. I will try to live until then."

Premonitions of "Something Bad" - Parris' Worries About Cassie:

In the countryside, Drake came upon Parris sitting under a tree and delivered a love note from his sweetheart Cassie: "Got a note from your sweetheart. Cupid's messenger, that's me." Concerned, Drake rightly sensed that something was wrong, and Parris confirmed it with a premonition of something negatively inevitable:

"Something's gonna happen, Drake. Something bad, I don't know what. It's just a feeling I've had lately. Something I can't stop happening, that maybe I'm even responsible for in some way."

Cassie's note was a request to see Parris at Drake's house that evening. Parris confessed his steadfast love for Cassie, but pondered her mysterious inner duality:

Ever since we were kids, there's been no one but her...Some mystery about Cassie herself. Dr. Tower said something once, 'Each of us live in multiple worlds.' It's like that with her.

Although Parris praised Dr. Tower as "brainier than the rest of men in this town put together," he was conflicted about the way Cassie was being confined: "I feel like a dog when I go there now. I like him, Drake. Yet, when I think about Cassie and the way he makes her live - Gosh, I'm all mixed up.

Premonitions of Dr. Tower About Humankind's Disturbed Inner Psyche:

During his next session, "young doctor-to-be" Parris feared to boldly ask an awkward, tactless and quasi-unethical question of Dr. Tower - about the other doctor in town. He prefaced his question with his own doubts:

"Ever since I can remember, I've noticed things. When I was just a kid, there was Willy MacIntosh's father who died from shock during an operation without anesthetic. There have been other cases, Ludie Simms. You know the widow the men all wink about? Dr. Gordon operated on her, now one whole side of her face is horribly paralyzed. There've been others. Now he's attending my grandmother."

Young student Parris trusted Dr. Tower's judgment and reassurance that his grandmother would be treated well. [Note: It was implied that the social class status of Gordon's patients made a difference in their treatment.]

The doctor then reflected on Parris' long period of training with him: "I began this work with you with decided misgivings. It's only fair to tell you now that I've enjoyed it." Dr. Tower began a discussion with Parris about a new field of medicine known as psychiatry - the cure of people's minds instead of their bodies. He described how through medieval history, especially in the 12th and 13th centuries, humankind was "happier and more comfortable in his world than he is now." He wasn't referring to negligible physical comforts, inventions or advances, such as "soap, macadamized roads, dentistry and freedom of speech", but to man's inner psyche "and his relation with his whole universe." He went on:

"But now, 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 gonna 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 belly-ache. Mankind's building up the biggest psychic belly-ache in history."

Parris eagerly added his own thoughts about man's lost condition:

"Well, you were saying that man gets lost. It seems to me that these lost people have kind of fooled themselves clear out of the world of reality. And the right way is to fool them right back in again, like catching a rabbit that's strayed out of its pen. You get his attention on something else and he doesn't see the gate and the first thing he knows, he's back home again."

Dr. Tower graciously predicted that Parris would "become a good doctor, maybe even a brilliant one." And he was a "credit" to his grandmother - and also to Dr. Tower himself. The doctor acknowledged that Parris had become like a surrogate son: "If I had a son, I'd want him to be as nearly like you as possible."

The Decline of Parris' Grandmother Due to Terminal Cancer:

While playing the piano for his teacher Professor Berdorff (Ludwig Stössel), Parris became concerned about the medical condition of his grandmother, who had just been treated by Dr. Gordon. Parris noticed a hypodermic needle left in her bathroom, used to administer a pain-killer. Parris learned from Anna about her several weeks-old diagnosis of cancer, and the reason he had been deliberately kept in the dark - like a child: "She wanted you to finish your studies without worrying." Death was expected in just a few days.

Parris and Cassie's Last Visit - at the Fence Stile:

Cassie jumped out from the behind the tree at the fence stile, as she had 10 years earlier to tell Parris that she was going to be home-schooled. She kissed him, then expressed her strong compulsion to see him and to get out of the house. In the stillness and privacy of nature as they walked together to the pond - where they happily used to go after school, she remembered their fun play-place from the past:

"It seems a long time ago since we walked home this way from school. Look, Parris, the pond. I'd forgotten how lovely it was. You know something? I used to think of this as our secret lake."

With the prospect of Parris' imminent departure to Vienna to complete his studies, she was worried about her fate: "I'll miss you...So much I don't know what will become of me." She was uncertain about her feelings for him, although she constantly thought about him: "I don't even know how I feel about you. I haven't known since the day you came to our house and I opened the door. I know I just never think of anyone else but you, but..." She refused to talk about her father's prohibitions against her whenever the subject was broached ("Everything is perfect until we try to talk about it"). To bypass her own serious concerns about her father, she deftly and abruptly changed the conversation back to the news of Parris' grandmother's terminal illness - she was frightened about the way Parris was being treated and kept uninformed, although he already knew the truth.

Parris cried about being left alone in the world, and she became concerned about his steadfast love and empathized about his undeserved, painful misfortunes in life - echoing her father's words about humankind's worries and doubts. She fiercely hugged and caressed Parris, and then had an extraordinary outburst against everything - including frenzied blasphemy against God:

"I do mind. I mind awfully. Oh, why do you have things happen to you? Why do you have to cry? You're the nicest, best. Why do any of us have to cry? You or me, what have we done? Oh, I hate it. I hate everything. I'd hate God if I could. But there's nothing you can reach...Don't. Don't say anything. I want you to hate it, too, whatever hurts us. Oh, Parris, don't cry. Please don't cry, I can't stand that. Oh, darling! Darling, darling."

As they walked back to the fence, Cassie was forlorn: "This may be the last time I can see you." Parris thought that maybe in the future, they could get married when he returned. But she recoiled and shrunk back from the suggestion - referring to her unimaginable, hidden problems (related to the terror she felt for her father, or her own diagnosis of insanity?): "If I can let you understand...No, you don't. Not at all. You couldn't...Don't try to understand me." She fled from his side.

Parris returned home just as Anna told him that the end was near for his grandmother. At the bedside, Parris made a profound apology: "Anna, I can't help her" - and at that moment, she passed away.

The Questionable Future - For Drake, Parris, and Cassie:

In preparation for his departure to Vienna, Parris asked permission from Drake to store his books in his barn. Drake felt they were "in the same boat" - both were mourning the losses of their caretakers and the end of relationships with their loved ones (Grandmother, Aunt Mamie, Cassie and Louise). Drake revealed the many returned and unanswered letters that he had sent to Louise, and then facetiously quipped about marrying one of the Ross girls instead: "I guess I'll marry somebody like Poppy Ross. It's more fun anyways." He was planning on making his own fortune and becoming successful:

"Someday I'm gonna surprise some of the people in this town. When I get my money I'm going into business. Settle down hard, when I do settle down. I'll make Louise proud of me and then maybe she..."

Cassie frantically knocked on the door to Drake's house, looking very scared, tremulous and doomed. In an agitated and tormented state, she had now changed her mind about his earlier marriage proposal. She begged to go away with Parris to Europe to escape her dire situation: "Let me go away with you...Anywhere, anywhere, I don't care. I'll run away somewhere. Let me go with you, I can take care of you." Parris hesitated with his answer - he explained how the timing was all wrong, but they could marry when he returned from his studies: "But we can't get married now. I've got to get through all that study first. I asked you if, when I came back, you'd..." And then in the blink of an eye, she dismissed her desperate plea: "Never mind....It was a wicked idea. Forgive me." She responded with extreme fright when Parris suggested taking her home, and ran off as abruptly as she had arrived.

Drake accompanied Parris to the Tower house, where the doctor was sitting calmly on the front porch swing, half-hidden in the darkness. Parris vowed to daringly remove Cassie in full view of her father to rescue her, and proposed that they would live in his grandmother's estate - inferring that he would sacrifice and forsake his entire medical career to be with her: "I'm gonna take her out right in front of him. We'll move out to my place." Drake tried to discourage Parris: "Kid, if I have to slug you...!" But then they both saw Cassie calmly summon her father inside, and Drake reassured Parris about his fears:

"There. Does that look like anything's happened? Old Cass was just having a fit about you going away, that's all. All women and girls act like that sometimes. It doesn't mean a thing."

Cassie's Poisoning and Dr. Tower's Suicide:

The next morning, it appeared that something terrible had happened, however - Parris' premonitions proved to be right. Drake prepared Parris for the tragic news as he brought him breakfast upstairs: "Cassie's dead. She was killed early last night. I guess shortly after we were there....Her father killed her and committed suicide." Drake's black maid Esther (Bertha Powell) had told him the news, confirmed by the town's Gazette that Cassie had been poisoned, and shortly later, Dr. Tower had shot himself. Distraught, Parris wanted to accompany Drake to the house as he blamed himself: "I think I've killed her...," but Drake refused his company.

In the Tower home, Sheriff Sam Winters (Minor Watson) and Colonel Skeffington were baffled by the "darndest mystery." Dr. Gordon entered and revealed a key finding in the tragedy - the discovery of further vague evidence that hinted that was Cassie was pregnant:

"Just something about the girl."

Dr. Gordon elaborated by confirming Sam's words - Cassie had "her things packed ready to skedaddle." He wouldn't offer any more information about his vague "Just something" statement - "Tell you later."

[In the novel, Cassie was afflicted with nymphomania, not insanity. Dr. Tower's diary revealed that the warped doctor had eliminated his wife and then committed incest with his daughter in order to study its psychological effects. He then killed Cassie when she threatened to leave him and go to rival Parris.

In the film - as explained further below in the plot, Tower's emotionally-disturbed daughter Cassie allegedly suffered from dementia praecox inherited from her mother. Dr. Tower (also slightly insane and paranoid and suffering from an unknown malaise - similar to what he described earlier as 'lost' and 'crazy'?) murdered Cassie (was it a mercy killing?) because of her increasing insanity (that he feared he couldn't cure) and because he had learned of her plan to run off with Parris - he saw her packed bags. Tower's brutal attempt to keep Cassie away from the world ultimately resulted in exactly what he had feared - her madness.

In reality, however, there were two other strong motives for his actions: (1) he was conducting incest with her, and (2) he discovered that she had become pregnant because of her sexual relationship with Parris, and he became enraged and 'jealous.' She feared that her highly-restrictive father would discover her condition - hence her rapid, schizophrenic flip-flopping about her feelings for Parris and his proposal of marriage. Afterwards, Dr. Tower killed himself in an act of regretful suicide and cover-up - or as theorized later by Parris, in order to protect his future protege from a similar fate - the tragedy of wedding an insane female and being forced to hide out in Kings Row to escape scrutiny.]

Drake generously stepped in to protect Parris from any suspicion after Dr. Tower had killed his daughter. He claimed to Sam, Dr. Gordon, and to the Colonel (all symbols of the town's authority) that he was Cassie's secret boyfriend and that they were going to elope ("I knew Cassie Tower...Well, we were going to run away. She'd been getting out to meet me for a long time"), but Cassie's father hadn't found out. Drake also confessed that didn't "know anything about this crime or whatever you call it." Dr. Gordon glared behind Drake - fuming that Drake was confessing to his playboyish ways with all the young and 'loose' females in town, including his own daughter.

[Note: Drake's act of cover-up was ill-considered, since his claim of promiscuity - and the implication that he could have impregnated Cassie - later prompted Dr. Gordon's vicious revenge against him on account of Drake's romancing of Louise.]

From his coat pocket, Colonel Skeffington showed Drake a letter written to Parris from Dr. Tower:

Skeffington: "He left his property, everything he owned to Parris..."
Sheriff: "Well, it appears you weren't so lucky as you thought you were. If he'd known about his prospective son-in-law, he might have left it to you."

Answering Questions About Cassie's Illness and Dr. Tower's Motivations:

With Drake, Parris contemplated why Cassie suffered such a cruel fate with numerous unanswered questions:

  • Why did it happen?
  • Why did Cassie come here last night?
  • What was she afraid of?
  • What happened since the other night when I saw her?
  • What reason could her father have had for killing her?
  • What reason could he have had for killing himself?
  • Why didn't Cassie explain things last night?
  • Why did Dr. Tower leave me his property?
  • Why should anyone wanna kill Cassie, who never did any harm to anyone?

In the town's cemetery, Parris stood at the Tower plot with tombstones and gravesites, still asking: "Why?" He also revisited Dr. Tower's study where he had spent so many hours under the doctor's tutelage. In the locked, right upper desk drawer, he located his notebooks (with notes and observations written by Dr. Tower), and intently studied Tower's notations into the middle of the night. Drake arrived and listened to Parris' theory about the double homicide of Dr. Tower and Cassie: It stemmed from the mental illness of Cassie's mother, who was confined in the house and spied on people from the upstairs window. Parris had found a notation by Dr. Tower about his first suspicions that Cassie was inheriting her mother's "loco" craziness:

"Today, I noticed the first sign in Cassandra."

Parris hypothesized: "They were just the first indications, the early maladjustments of dementia praecox." [Note: "Dementia Praecox" was the term for a deteriorating psychotic disorder.] In addition, Parris wondered if Dr. Tower knew about their passionate sexual relationship, and their possible plans for marriage. Cassie also seemed to slowly become aware of her own growing insanity like her mother (and always refused to talk about it) whenever Parris asked how she was. Parris asked himself about Cassie's desperation the night she had requested to go to Vienna with him: "I don't know what Dr. Tower knew about that night. Maybe nothing. Maybe he guessed. Maybe he was just looking into my future."

Parris considered that Dr. Tower was possibly trying to protect him (he had proudly called Parris his surrogate son) from the same fate he had suffered - marriage to a crazed woman that he could only control and hide within a small-town like Kings Row.

"He didn't want that to happen to me that happened to him - stop his career. He thought more of me than I ever knew."

Unbelievably, Parris ascribed positive motivations to Tower's actions, by how he had sacrificed his brilliant career and settled in the insignificant rural area because of his wife's insanity. Rather than burn the book as Drake urged, Parris decided to keep the incriminating book and study it.

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