A Free Soul (1931)
Movie InfoHaving gotten his high-profile gangster client off scot-free, a celebrated criminal lawyer brings the mobster home to meet his family, unintentionally spurring both romance and tragedy for his rebellious young daughter. This Oscar-winning MGM production features the fine teaming of venerable Lionel Barrymore and a young Clark Gable.
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Critic Reviews for A Free Soul
Contains what may be the first instance of the 'If it doesn't fit you must acquit' defense: Barrymore wins Gable's freedom by having the accused man place on top of his head the too-small hat that was found at the scene of the crime.
Designed as star vehicle for Norma Shearer, this sensationalistic melodrama about a brutal gangster (the young Clark Gable) and boozy lawyer could not have been made after 1934, when the rigid Production Code was put in effect.
Audience Reviews for A Free Soul
A father and daughter movie where each has a vice that the other is trying to rid the other of. It's a very interesting story, and you can learn a lot from it. I really liked Shearer and Gable in this movie, they give very good performances.More
Gable's charisma is in full evidence here, even as a villian and Norma looks great but the film is hampered by staginess and some very mannered acting.More
"a free soul" is the very flick which gets clark gable some female attention with the notorious scene of him pushing norma shearer roughly to the couch for three times! blatant violence on woman, but endearing gable is always excusable since he's doing it for the sake of love.
norma shearer plays a spoilt rich gal jan ashe who defies her family by dating mobster ace wilfong(gable), emancipated by her alcoholic father(lionel barrymore) who encourages her to be free. so she sneaks to the mobster's residence shamelessly as if she's his mistress for months. infatuated by jan's tumultuous lovemaking, wilfong falls head over heels in love with jan, then he consults her father's approval for the marriage proposal...due to the gap of social status, the father finally sombers up and condemns jan for hanging around with wilfong. so jan makes a bargain with dad that if he quits booze, she would quits gable. then the father and daughter disappear for three months in wilderness for eradication of liquor which fails eventually. and norma shearer returns to the dangerously charismatic clark gable while he's infuriated by her abscence, then he threatens her to marry him or he would announce their affair to ruin her social reputation. in the end, shearer's another love interest leslie howard comes to the scene to shoot gable to death, gallantly rescuing her from gable's villainy.
clark gable is still in his mustacheless period and credited as the third in the cast, but his overwhelming caveman-alike machismo thrills millions of women then while he growls "you're mine and you belong to me! don't you ever run away!!!" and his disdemeanors to push norma shear in fur is highly appreciated by the audience in depression period due to the animosity to idle rich, and gable's contempt to norma's social superiority was approved by proles who disdain the condescending loftiness of upper class. besides, gable's character has been devoted to shearer who is just ficklely having a good time slumming, and she's contrary to whoever posts disapproving opinions on her. when her family refuses to accept gable, she throws herself to him, as gable declares his determination to marry her, she ducks away. and he's traumatized by her frivolosity but too proud to admit it. so his rage is perfectly justified, and he wants her so he's gonna rob her away to be his! this tough kind of savage manhood is considered utterly sexy by women then.
This is most notable for containing what could be the first instance of what has become a Hollywood staple, the climactic courtroom speech. Barrymore ramps the ham factor up to eleven with his, rather unconvincing, plea for the jury to give Howard a break. As courtroom scenes go only Pacino's craziness at the end of "And Justice For All" tops it. As with that film, the preceding narrative isn't really worth sitting through for the payoff.
We associate Gable with the dashing romantic leads of "It Happened One Night" and "Gone With The Wind" so it's a shock to see him playing a nasty scoundrel here. As a mob boss he's quite intimidating, not someone you want to cross. Shearer finds him utterly seductive though, practically orgasming at first sight of his rugged looks. After the introduction of the code, criminals couldn't be portrayed as glamorously as Gable, and good girls like Shearer certainly couldn't be shown falling for them.
Shearer isn't portrayed as being anyway likeable so it's hard to sympathise when she gets herself in trouble. Even when Gable starts roughly man-handling her she doesn't seem all too bothered anyway. More focus should have been placed on her fiance, the always great Howard. He goes to great lengths to help her but loses his dignity in so doing, eventually ending up in the climactic courtroom scene on a murder charge.
The movie is based on a novel by Adela Rogers, daughter of Earl Rogers, a brilliant but alcoholic lawyer of the time who was famous for the sort of showboating techniques displayed here. Barrymore and Shearer are basically glamorised versions of the father and daughter. She later wrote a biography which was adapted for the screen in 1991 as "Final Verdict" starring Treat Williams.
Despite Barrymore picking up a Best Actor Oscar, the movie has faded into obscurity and is really only of interest to film historians (or those who insist on writing about Pre-Code Hollywood).
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