A Free Soul - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

A Free Soul Reviews

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½ April 20, 2017
Here and there. Still interesting.
February 18, 2017
An early Sound venture boasting a terrific cast especially newcomer Clark Gable who truly became a star.

The story of an alcoholic lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) & his headstrong but charming daughter (Norma Shearer) & all goes askew when she falls for the gangster (Gable) who is being represented by Barrymore.

Very much a vehicle of the era & Norma Shearer truly does a great job keeping the film moving. Definitely one of the better productions of that early sound era of Hollywood.
Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
March 31, 2016
Great performances and a lively plot make this one quite entertaining. The premise is an alcoholic lawyer agrees to give up drinking provided his daughter will stop seeing a gangster she's gotten herself involved with for the thrill of it. Lionel Barrymore is the father and turns in a performance worthy of the Oscar he received, and it's nice to see him in a very different role from old Potter ('It's a Wonderful Life') but hear that same voice. Norma Shearer plays his daughter and was also nominated; she's wonderfully natural in the role of the non-conformist 'free soul', and has a languid sexuality about her in scenes such as the one where she encourages action from her lover instead of talking, and later reclines back and asks for an embrace with "Come on, put 'em around me" before the scene fades to black, and we know what that meant. Clark Gable is the gangster, playing the heavy very well, and Leslie Howard is the 'nice guy'; eight years later, of course, they would appear together as Rhett and Ashley in 'Gone With The Wind'.

It's interesting to compare what shocked people who saw this movie in 1931, and compare it to what shocks us today. The fact that Shearer's character is sexually liberated and seeks out a physical relationship, turning down Gable's offer to marry her, was scandalous. As she slinks around in a thin white dress, she purrs "Men of action are better in action. They don't talk well ... Why, I take it on the run right into your arms, don't I, darling? ... Ace, darling, I'm head over heels mad about you, but what's in the future I don't know...".

We, on the other hand, are shocked at Gable's arrogance when she meets up with him three months later, after having ended their relationship. He shows his nasty side, manhandling her and making it clear that he'll make it known that they've had sex, therefore 'she's mine, she belongs to me'. His behavior isn't condoned of course and others stick up for her, but the idea that's she's ruined in some way and 'not fit for any other man' was the view in society at the time, and part of Leslie Howard's heroism is to attempt to protect her honor.

Worth watching for challenging the morals of the day, and for the star-studded cast, which shine almost a century later.
½ March 12, 2015
Lionel Barrymore won Best Actor for his role, and Clark Gable's career was jump-started by his, but it's Norma Shearer who stole the show in this solid melodrama about a free-spirited woman tied down by two men with whom she's in a love triangle. Both men (a gambler played by Gable and an aristocrat played by Leslie Howard, also from Gone with the Wind) are the defendants in murder trials, both of which are represented by Mrs. Ash (Shearer)'s father, played by Lionel Barrymore. It's cheesy at times, but the acting is some of the best of its era.
½ June 15, 2014
While its message may end up being rather clumsy and conservative, A Free Soul benefits from its fast-paced narrative, and excellent performances from a glowing Norma Shearer and Lionel Barrymore.
August 28, 2013
A Free Soul (1931)

This is the movie that made a minor character actor into a romantic superstar. Famous defense attorney (and alcoholic), Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) is defending a murder suspect and gangster, Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable). An interesting "If the hat doesn't fit, you must acquit" causes Ace to get released. Here is where Ace meets Stephen's free-spirited daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer).

Flighty Jan is bored with her nice-guy boyfriend, Dwight Wintrhop (Leslie Howard) and goes for the bad boy, Ace in a big way. The only problem is that Ace has fallen for Jan and when she wants to get out of the fling, Ace objects in a big way. To top that off, her dad, Stephen is hitting bottom with his drinking problem.

Although, this isn't a great movie for Gable, his man-handling of Norma Shearer touched a nerve with females audiences that caused MGM to try to duplicate Gable's persona throughout the rest of his career.

Unlike the legend that Gable's slapping Norma Shearer's character made him hot for the ladies (he actually only pushes her down on the couch), I think it was that him telling her that he loved her and he wasn't going to let her go that sealed the deal with his new found fans.
Super Reviewer
½ August 28, 2013
Not one of the notable films from the thirties. This was a little silly for all involved.
December 23, 2012
I'm A Huge Geek Of Film, 1941's Citizen Kane Is My Favorite Film.
July 20, 2012
Lionel Barrymore won a much deserved Oscar for Best Actor as an alcoholic lawyer in this melodrama. It's a 1930s melodrama, so there's not a whole lot good that can be said of the screenplay, except that the way it handles alcoholism is remarkably ahead of its time. The acting is uniformly terrific, however, which is somewhat surprising for such an early talkie (Barrymore's great and really deserved the Oscar, but Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, and Leslie Howard are all great as well), and the cast holds the film above water. If only for the acting and the alcoholic subplot, it holds up much better than most movies from the era.
July 17, 2012
well done drama and pre-code talkie
July 8, 2012
Undeniably dated, A Free Soul is an old-school "talkie" that's worth watching just for the promise shown by Clark Gable in one of his earlier roles, and the Oscar-winning pre-Hays-code performance by Lionel Barrymore. But it is cheesy as Hell by today's standards.
Super Reviewer
½ June 3, 2012
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).
January 10, 2012
Norma Shearer wasn't wearing a bra with her gown! Outrageous. It's the kind of thing that lead to teenage pregnancy circa 1931! Clark Gable slapping her around? That's what chick's liked back then, and, apparently, being machine gunned turned them on as well. That may have led to teenage pregancy circa 1931 but that's more speculation on my part. Norma Shearer being a little too close to her drunk lawyer daddy? I hope that didn't lead to teenage pregancy circa 1931. But, standards change over time...
Super Reviewer
½ March 1, 2011
Interesting subject matter and good acting, but not very enjoyable overall. It's about a Father and Daughter(Barrymore and Shearer) as free souls who never worry about the consequences of their actions. It's pretty racy at times, especially for a MGM film, he's a drunk and she's promiscuous. The film runs a little long and it seems like it works better in play form. Good cast and Gable shines in every scene as a bad guy(rare), but also too melodramatic and by the end I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters.
Super Reviewer
November 16, 2010
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.
½ October 30, 2010
An uneven mess of a film. Norma Shear's character is indeed interesting and conflicted but the situations that make up plot of this movie seem almost drawn from a hat...Barrymore executes is duties very well indeed, however, it all just seems a bit too over the top, even for a full on melodrama like this....still, entertaining, just hard to swallow.
½ October 27, 2010
Norma Shearer plays an independent, free-spirited soul who gets entangled with a mob boss played by Clark Gable. Leslie Howard comes to her aid when things get too hot. Rounding out the cast in this pre-code Hollywood drama is Lionel Barrymore taking on the daring role of Shearer's alcoholic defense attorney father.
February 21, 2010
A less-than-believable plot line hampers enjoyment of performances by Clark Gable (sans mustache) and Leslie Howard (pre-Gone with the Wind).
½ February 17, 2010
2.5: It seems as if the Breen production-code served more to restrict the range of female characters and actions than anything else. The men in the story don't behave any differently from many films of the era, but Norma Shearer is far more carefree, loose, and open than one has come to expect from actresses of the era. The manner in which she carries herself, such as her gestures and obvious ease while alone in a strange man's apartment, simply serve to make her far more seductive and free than is usual. It does make me wonder what else we were missing over the years. What would Hepburn, Hayworth, Turner, etc have done with this kind of freedom? How would it have changed the way women developed on the screen and were viewed in society? Gable's character is pretty harsh and Shearer ends up faced with uncommon choices. A film that tackles sex before marriage and alcoholism was a bit ahead of its time in 1931. It's interesting to see Howard and Gable stuck on the same girl nearly a decade before Gone with the Wind as well. The courtroom scene towards the end just goes to show that Hollywood has always known how to go a bit over the top and depart entirely from the realm of the possible. The psychological explanations offered in the court room seemed a bit less than elegantly presented, which significantly detracted from the effectiveness of the picture. The third act simply ends up dragging it down. Perhaps what struck me most about the film was the seriousness of its tone. It is about as far removed from fluffy entertainment as a picture of the era can be.
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