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William A. Wellman
Edward G. Robinson,
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 <email@example.com>
Clark Gable dominates Norma Shearer and the rest of the cast in the story of a girl who wanted to live her life as a free soul.
"A Free Soul" is best known as the film which cemented Clark Gable's film reputation and catapulted him into a 30-year career as the King of Hollywood's leading men. In the year of "A Free Soul", 1931, Gable had no fewer than 10 films in release, three of them, "Possessed", "Laughing Sinners" and "Dance, Fools, Dance" with his most frequent screen partner Joan Crawford. "A Free Soul" tells the story of the relationship between an alcoholic lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) and his free-spirited daughter (Miss Shearer) who come to an impasse when she takes up with one of his clients, gangster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable). Miss Shearer is rejected by her high society family and becomes the possession of the brutal gangster who threatens her with a forced marriage (hey, it was 1931!) until her ex-fiance (Leslie Howard) shoots him. The last part of the story details Howard's trial and defense by Lionel Barrymore (who's final courtroom scene, shot with multiple cameras in one take, won him the Best Actor Academy Award). Although there is fine acting all around from Barrymore, Miss Shearer, Leslie Howard and the always excellent James Gleason, it is Gable who makes the greatest impact. His brutality towards Miss Shearer must have shocked the audience's of 1931 who were used to having her treated with respect by her screen lovers. But at the end of the picture, her relationship with Gable is much easier to understand than her less volatile, but more socially acceptable attachment to gentleman Leslie Howard (his murder of Gable, notwithstanding). The film vividly illustrates a popular theme of films at the time of a definite social schism. In a diatribe of non-equality between the "classes" as delivered by lawyer Barrymore, he illustrates that beasts like lower-class Gable can clean themselves up and cross the "tracks" to the upper-class but they can never really be accepted by their "betters." However, there were probably very few women in the audience who wouldn't have liked to have been pawed by Gable regardless of his social standing, at least once (or twice, if they were lucky). Director Clarence Bull ultimately would work with Gable in 10 pictures (6 with his co-star, Joan Crawford). Miss Shearer looks beautiful in designer Adrian's loose top, tight bottom bias cut gowns (a look which would typify MGM leading ladies in the early 30's). Her final courtroom entrance wearing a hat, a big fur and an Adrian gown would be copied on-screen for decades to come (Joan Collins first entrance as Alexis Carrington on TV's "Dynasty" comes to mind). Norma Shearer is obviously from the upper class, but passionate enough to take up with lug Gable and make her desire for him completely believable. Leslie Howard gives an understated but effective performance. However, with the sexual fireworks between Gable and Shearer he quickly fades into the background. This film is a good example of exactly what made Clark Gable into a star. It was also, probably the film that launched the phrase, "Who do you think you are? Clark Gable?".
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