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Movie Review - A Free Soul (1931 - United States)

Updated on April 25, 2012

A movie worthy of your attention even if it is flawed. Please, watch it and form your own opinion.

A Free Soul contains a great deal more than the "can a bad girl still be marriageable?" plot line. Watch how the movie starts: successful attorney Lionel Barrymore is breakfasting while a woman gets dressed off camera. She commands him to hand her clothes and when he jokingly complains she asks if he's "already bored with her", after "only one night". And then it gets complicated: We realize she isn't a lover, but his visiting daughter (Norma Shearer), and her love for him is the block preventing her from bonding with Leslie Howard (bringing his characteristic likeability a role that might in other hands have been doomed by the moniker of "Famous Polo Player"). It is also the impetus that drives her into the arms of the smooth gangster (Clark Gable, so young and beautiful and sexy that it's scary), who Daddy is defending against murder charges.

A Free Soul is based on a startlingy modern concept (remember, it was made in 1931)

Dear old dad, it turns out, is a raving drunk, and the movie's astonishingly modern opinion is that the daughter's desire for bad boys is hopelessly linked to her father's desire for booze. Once again, we see here an interesting concept being explored openly in film that would be put on hold for decades while the Hayes code had Hollywood in its iron grasp.

Norma Shearer in 1931 - and remember this is pre-plastic surgery and pre-Photoshop!

It's worth watching just to see how incredibly hot Clark Gable was at such a young age

Recommended, especially for those interested in pre-code Hollywood. It isn’t as good a film as The Divorcee or Queen Christina , but certainly worth watching.

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

What I know about pre-code Hollywood:

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Genre: Drama, Romance, Classics

Rated: Unrated

Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

In Theaters: Jun 20, 1931

On DVD: Feb 20, 1991

Directed By: Clarence Brown

Writing credits:

Adela Rogers St. Johns (book), John Meehan (dialogue continuity), Becky Gardiner (adaptation), Willard Mack play (uncredited)


Norma Shearer - Jan Ashe

Leslie Howard - Dwight Winthrop

Lionel Barrymore - Stephen Ashe

Clark Gable - Ace Wilfong

James Gleason - Eddie

Lucy Beaumont - Grandma Ashe


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      WhiteMuse 3 years ago

      This is interesting. I like looking at pre-code Hollywood movies so I might try it if I see the DVD around. There was that festival for them before in New York City.