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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A FREE SOUL (1931)

Norma Shearer is divinely dressed & decadent as the free-thinking daughter of alcoholic mob lawyer Lionel Barrymore in this irresistible Pre-Code morality tale. Pop’s just used a hat trick to get Clark Gable off on a murder rap* and though Norma’s engaged to that nice Leslie Howard (a ranked polo player!), she’s drawn to Gable’s dangerous glamor. Shearer had just worked similar terrain in last year’s THE DIVORCEE/’30, but what a difference a year has made in Talkie technique and film acting. (Both films come on a single DVD, so it’s easy to compare. Still, no background music, but Leo the lion has found his roar.) Director Clarence Brown shook off much of his early Talkie stiffness here (and even more in POSSESSED/’31 with Joan Crawford & Gable), with dramatic compositions that bring him back to his silent film form and which must have been a breeze to edit. (Producer Irving Thalberg, Shearer’s husband, was notorious for reshooting & generally over-hauling things, but you don’t see many signs of it here.) The film isn’t without its corny elements, but it’s so ‘all-of-a-piece’ stylistically that it’s able to coast over many a dramatic sin. It even holds a few fresh dramatic surprises, especially from that clever Leslie Howard who does wonders with his seemingly soppy part. (You’ll see why Howard was so reluctant to play second-fiddle to Gable’s Rhett Butler on GWTW.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Ever wonder where O.J. Simpson’s lawyers got the idea for their ‘if the glove won’t fit you can’t convict’ routine? Watch Barrymore, Gable & the hat.

READ ALL ABOUT IT:: As mentioned in the Write-Up of this film’s wan remake, THE GIRL WHO HAD EVERYTHING/’53, gal reporter extraordinaire Adela Rogers St. Johns based the source novel on her life with her famous dad, Earl Rogers, and revisited the material in her non-fiction memoir FINAL VERDICT, written three decades later.

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