falderal : a moving images blog
A Free Soul ; 1931  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Director: Clarence Brown
Actors: Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, James Gleason, Clark Gable, Lucy Beaumont
Country: U.S.A.

A Free Soul is an amazing pre-code film that I enjoyed from the beginning to end. Norma Shearer as Jan is a free woman who can do whatever she wants. Her father (Lionel Barrymore) has taught her to be independent and that if she ever makes mistakes, it will be no one’s fault but her own because she had the choice to make it or not.

This film also gives the viewers a glimpse of how a “free” woman was perceived by society: Jan is seen by her family as someone who is wild and Ace (Clark Gable) says that he’ll ruin her reputation by telling the truth so that no man would want to marry her. I loved Jan and her wit, charm, intelligence, and her willingness to take responsibility for her actions and to be a strong woman in various situations. What I found to be interesting about this film is that it had both progressive ideas and incredibly conservative and classist ideas portrayed as well. Nevertheless, I highly enjoyed this film.

My favourite scene cinematically is the jail scene with Jan and Dwight (Howard). It gives a sense of closeness through its almost claustrophobic-like framing and to see how they are communicating not only through their voice but through their eyes. It was as if this scene solidified their relationship and they both knew what each other was thinking just by looking at each other. While they are close emotionally and location-wise, the wall between them keeps them away from each other. The wall could be seen as a hurdle that Dwight needs to go over in order to be free and be with Jan, but at the same time, if that wall wasn’t there, Jan’s past actions would be exposed, just as her face would be. I thought that it was an interesting way of filming this scene because so many films from the past go for the plan américain and simple shots that show people’s faces with no obstructions

The acting is superb on everyone’s part. Norma Shearer is FANTASTIC; no words can describe how much I loved her as Jan. From the beginning I couldn’t help but fall in love with her character. And when she is with Clark Gable and does her “come here” arm motions (ref. Picture 1), even I was entranced. Lionel Barrymore’s speech at the end is heart breaking and he definitely has his own charm. Clark Gable, as a gangster, was known as “the man who slapped Norma Shearer” after this role. I was surprised to see him without his trademark moustache! Even though it wasn’t there, I somehow kept thinking that it was. Leslie Howard was absolutely delicious in this film! I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a British version of Gösta Ekman; funny thing is, he played Gösta Ekman’s part in Intermezzo in the American remake of the Swedish film. But of course, my heart will always side with dear Gösta and think that he’s the best.

IMDb Link: A Free Soul
Where to buy: Amazon.com (Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2 DVD set), Amazon.com (VHS)

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