A Free Soul (1931)
Release Date: June 20,1931
Directed by: Clarence Brown
Available on DVD in The Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2
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.
Photoplay magazine, July 1931
The picture follows, almost exactly, Adela Rogers St. Johns’ splendid novel of the same name. Lionel Barrymore’s performance in the role of a brilliant but heavy-drinking criminal lawyer is magnificent.
Norma Shearer is excellent and handles the part of his daughter perfectly. Her clothes are breathtaking in their daring. But you couldn’t get away with them in your drawing-room.
Clark Gable and Leslie Howard are both grand. The story concerns a modern girl, brought up by her clever but erratic father to do exactly as she pleases–to be “a free soul.”
She pleases to have a sordid affiar with a gambler, whom she discovers to be a cad. By all means, see it!
Silver Screen magazine, December 1931
Great! A triumph for Norma Shearer and Lionel Barrymore, who plays a drunken attorney who teaches his daughter to believe in the freedom of love. The scenes between Norma Shearer and Clark Gable as a gangster with whom she becomes involved are tremendous, and there is a gripping court-room climax in which the honors go to Lionel Barrymore.
“Good morning.” first line
“You know, you should get some new pictures for the press. They sure don’t flatter you any.”
“Is blue your favorite color? I was just thinking it ought to be.”
“Why, if I told you how often I’d wished I’d have you like this, you wouldn’t believe it.”
“Yesterday you were farther away than the stars. And tonight, here you are.”
“Say, it’s great to come up and find you here like this.”
“I was just wondering what I’d do if you stopped dropping in.”
“I’m off my nut about you, you know I am.”
“Well, you got to get over this idea you’re doing me a big favor. You’re crazy about me and you know it.”
“Oh, cut that. Cut it now and leave it lay!”
“I suppose when he got you home he asked you to take it on the run and get me out of your system, huh?”
“You came here because you wanted to come. You’re just as crazy about me as I am about you.”
“Sit down and take it and like it!”
“You make no more bargains, sweetheart, with anybody but me.”
“That will be too just bad for anybody who wants to stop this, just too bad.”
“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!”
“Shouldn’t send a boy to do a man’s job!”
“Well I’m not going to carry you screaming from the hotel but you can’t get away from me. I never was as nuts about you as I am right now. You could be walking along the street or out in your car but I’ll get you. All I’m going to do now is kiss you.”
“Don’t kid yourself for long. I’ll be back.”
“When I get through you won’t have the guts to marry her. Let me lay it on the line for you: She tossed all her ritz overboard months ago. She came to my place and she stayed there, you get that? She’s mine, she belongs to me.”
“You’ll come crawling back like you did last night. Maybe I’ll step out of my class and give you a break.”
“Listen buddy, take a tip–back out. Right now. If you don’t, you won’t live long enough to start the honeymoon. And I’m not kidding.”
“Sit down. This is a good place to talk.” last line
Behind the Scenes
Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote the book of the same title based on her own experiences growing up with her alcoholic father. She met Gable for the first time when he was cast and they became lifelong friends.
Lionel Barrymore won his first–and only–Best Actor Oscar for his role. Norma Shearer was also nominated for Best Actress and Clarence Brown for Best Director.
Barrymore’s speech during the trial at the end still holds the record for the longest uninterrupted monologue on film, at 14 minutes.
After the film was released, critics barely mentioned the relative newcomer Gable, reserving their praise for Barrymore. 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.