In a Nutshell: A Free Soul (1931)
Directed by: Clarence Brown
Co-stars: Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore
Synopsis: Gable is Ace Wilfong, a gangster on trial for murder being represented by upper class defense attorney Stephan Ashe (Barrymore). Stephan, while successful as an attorney, is an alcoholic who is frequently an embarrassment to his family, including his high spirited daughter, Jan (Shearer), who catches Ace’s eye at their first meeting. Stephan gets Ace cleared of the charges and Ace starts pursuing Jan once he is free, much to the chagrin of Jan’s stuffy fiancé, Dwight (Leslie Howard). Jan is quickly swept up into a passionate affair with Ace, excited by his dangerous lifestyle. When Ace tells Stephan he wants to marry Jan, Stephan is furious. Jan makes a deal with her father that if he agrees to give up drinking, she will give up Ace. Ace doesn’t take this well and Jan finds that she can’t untangle herself from him so easily.
Best Gable Quote: “Why, the way I love you, there’s nothing left to think about. It ain’t polite maybe but it’s what you want. Well, maybe not everything, but you can live without the rest. But you can’t live without me! That’s why you came back here, you had to. And that’s all marriage is, just two people that want to live together. You can call the rest just nothing. You’re through, you’re mine and I want you!”
Fun Fact: After the film was released, critics barely mentioned the relative newcomer Gable, reserving their praise for Barrymore (who ended up winning an Academy Award for his role). Moviegoers, however–especially female ones–wrote the studio in droves demanding more Gable and his fan mail started pouring in. Movie magazines took notice and hailed him as “the man’s man all modern women dream about!” Because of this, his $650/week contract with MGM was ripped up and he signed a new one for $1,150/week.
My Verdict: Clark is electric in this role, stealing every scene he is in with a violent, commanding, urgent lust. Norma is at her sexy pre-code best, and Lionel is top notch as the drunken father oozing with disappointment. Eight years before sad-eyed Ashley and debonair Rhett square off over Scarlett O’Hara, Leslie Howard is the good guy again vs. Clark’s brute. A must see film to see why a young, mustache-less Clark was catapulted into stardom.