This measly remake of A FREE SOUL/’31, the ripely entertaining Pre-Code Talkie with career defining turns from Clark Gable, Norma Shearer & Lionel Barrymore (plus a soppy one from Leslie Howard), is a sorry comedown for all involved. In the old film, Shearer was engaged to Howard, sleeping with Gable and fighting about it with her brilliant but alcoholic dad, Barrymore, top lawyer to the mob. Now we've got Fernando Lamas playing the gangster who falls for a very young Elizabeth Taylor and vows to give up his crooked life for her. The lawyer’s daughter is no longer a rebel against high society but a reformer of bad men. This reverses (and ruins) the whole story. William Powell and, especially Gig Young, in the Barrymore & Howard parts, have their roles gutted in the reconstruction and the film ends so abruptly, you wonder if the projectionist dropped a reel. It also looks like crap with shoddy production values and a compressed grey-scale, as if the film was meant to be an episode for a t.v. anthology series. Hard to believe that vet megger Richard Thorpe was just off some of the best work of his career on IVANHOE/’52.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned above, A FREE SOUL/’31. You can’t exactly take it seriously anymore, but what a capsule of its time & attitudes. And for those who only know the staid Shearer of her later films, this Pre-Code sexed up Norma is a dishy revelation. (Alas, she still can’t act. That only happened under Ernst Lubitsch in THE STUDENT PRINCE/’27.)
READ ALL ABOUT IT: This film is based on a novel about her dad, criminal lawyer Earl Rogers, by Adela Rogers St Johns, the original ace ‘gal’ reporter for the Hearst Syndicate. Decades later, she wrote a fascinating non-fiction work on him (FINAL VERDICT) and how she tagged along as his unofficial assistant when she was a kid. Just how good a lawyer was Earl Rogers? Well, when Clarence Darrow needed a lawyer, he got Rogers.