Stephen Ashe, an upper class alcoholic defense attourney, successfully defends local mobster Ace Wilfong in a murder case. After his daughter Jan Ashe breaks her engagement to polo player Dwight Winthrop and starts an affair with Wilfong, she finds that the liason is not easily severed when she wants out. Winthrop earns Miss Ashe's true affections by killing Wilfong to break his grip on her. Now the question is, can Stephen Ashe save Winthrop with an impassioned defense speech to the jury? Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When the final version of the movie went before Hollywood censors, they demanded that MGM cut the scene where Norma Shearer lays on the bed and suggestively asks Clark Gable to put his arms around her. The studio ignored the demand and released the film uncut. See more »
In the emotional scene when Shearer promises to give up Gable, Barrymore's hair changes between close-ups and medium shots. See more »
I think the world of the acting, the story, and the modern issues so plainly confronted
A Free Soul (1931)
Clark Gable says, "I'm telling you." And Norma Shearer, dressed in a sexy silk dress, replies, "Oh no, you're not. Nobody is."
That sums up this astonishing movie. I can't believe A Free Soul is so little known, or that so many viewers don't get the depth of its meaning then...and now. Throw in three of the most amazing actors of the early 1930s--Lionel Barrymore, Clark Gable, and Norma Shearer--and you can't help be impressed, and moved, and intrigued. It's about strength of character (three or four characters, in fact). It's about being a modern person, and having modern problems. And it's about facing them, openly, honestly.
So what holds it back? Well, for one thing, it has a lot of talk, a lot of simple dialog about some very not simple things. If you accept the characters and their need to talk, you will see a very honest confrontation with alcoholism, and with what is at first a kind of sex addiction, or what is later developed to be simply unbridled love for a man outside of marriage. But the parallel between two temptations is real, and rather powerful, and the sacrifices each of the two afflicted characters make is intense. Barrymore (as the one nipping the bottle) and Shearer (as the one too much in love, or in love with lovemaking) play their parts perfectly. They have moments of extraordinary clarity, and moments of abandonment. And they confront each other in a way that is completely reasonable.
There are other aspects here worth at least lifting an eyebrow at, namely the very close relationship, almost as platonic lovers, between these two. Gable as a lovable but brutal and deceptive gangster is perfect, too--gorgeous and hard, charming and untrustworthy. The milieu is well developed, from barroom to hotel room to courtroom. This isn't a Warner Brothers knock-you-out crime film, it isn't even Three on a Match, for an example of a compromise between a woman's picture and a gangster flick. It's a heady drama, beautifully laid out and progressively involving, with director Clarence Brown (famous for a whole string of such interpersonal, romantic dramas over several decades) knowing what makes a film really matter.
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