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A Free Soul

Released Jun 20, 1931 1h 31m Drama List
Reviews 58% Audience Score 500+ Ratings Morally ambivalent defense attorney Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) gets mobster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) off the hook when he's brought up on charges of murder. The lawyer's impulsive daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer), falls for the slick criminal's surface charm and breaks her engagement to upper-class polo player Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard). But when Jan discovers that she can't break away from Ace so easily and Dwight comes to her rescue, it's up to her father to put matters right. Read More Read Less Watch on Fandango at Home Buy Now

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Critics Reviews

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John Beifuss Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN) Contains what may be the first instance of the 'If it doesn't fit you must acquit' defense: Barrymore wins Gable's freedom by having the accused man place on top of his head the too-small hat that was found at the scene of the crime. Rated: 3/4 Jun 23, 2014 Full Review Emanuel Levy EmanuelLevy.Com Designed as star vehicle for Norma Shearer, this sensationalistic melodrama about a brutal gangster (the young Clark Gable) and boozy lawyer could not have been made after 1934, when the rigid Production Code was put in effect. Rated: B- Nov 26, 2008 Full Review Dennis Schwartz Dennis Schwartz Movie Reviews Despite the talented cast, this one ends up looking preposterous. Rated: C Mar 6, 2008 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

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Louisa E I enjoyed the story and it kept my interest the whole way through. Some of the costumes were beautiful. The downside for me was Norma's performance, and the way Ace's character seemingly turned. The ending was a bit wishy washy. Barrymore's performance was worth the Oscar nomination - the end courtroom scene was magnificent. 6.98/10. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 05/08/23 Full Review Audience Member Superior performances from Lionel Barrymore and Norma Shearer lift the overall film. But...the drama only works occasionally. Both Clark Gable and Leslie Howard are also good. The final scenes involving a courtroom dooms the picture sadly. It becomes unbelievable theatrical and manipulative. Rated 2.5 out of 5 stars 02/09/23 Full Review Audience Member This movie is famous for Barrymore's climactic courtroom monologue that is likely the reason he wont the Oscar for Best Actor that year. Gable made such an impression in the role of a gangster who pushes Shearer around that he was catapulted from supporting player to leading man. It perhaps is the first instance of the "If it doesn't fit you must acquit," defense when Dwight puts on a hat too small for his head from the scene of the crime. It was heavily protested and banned in Canada and Ireland due to the unfair portrayal of pharmacists. Rated 2 out of 5 stars 02/08/23 Full Review Tom M Great cast. Shearer is as lovely as Gable is nasty. Barrymore deserved the Oscar although the last 15 minutes was overdone. Howard is his usual dull milquetoast. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 01/14/21 Full Review steve d Ridiculous but its cast makes it fun. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 03/30/23 Full Review Audience Member Sprawling and messy, Clark Gable is introduced as a vile brute: a gangster who sold drugs, ran prostitution rings, and was involved in the human slave trade. He treated Shearer like a whore, yet treating women badly made him more alluring to women. The phony courtroom scene at the end is not a testament to Barrymore (although maybe it was in 1931). Class distinctions are thrown in, something you see in almost all early films, but not something modern audiences identify with. Gable's vile and vicious behavior ensures that this is not something you'd watch today. Shearer's overacting was the norm, but her streak of independence was abnormal for 1930. Regular women of the time would not identify with Shearer. The men who wrote this film are pushing for sexual independence (for their own benefit, of course). Rated 1 out of 5 stars 02/16/23 Full Review Read all reviews
A Free Soul

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Movie Info

Synopsis Morally ambivalent defense attorney Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) gets mobster Ace Wilfong (Clark Gable) off the hook when he's brought up on charges of murder. The lawyer's impulsive daughter, Jan (Norma Shearer), falls for the slick criminal's surface charm and breaks her engagement to upper-class polo player Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard). But when Jan discovers that she can't break away from Ace so easily and Dwight comes to her rescue, it's up to her father to put matters right.
Director
Clarence Brown
Screenwriter
Becky Gardiner, Willard Mack, Adela Rogers St. Johns
Distributor
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Production Co
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Genre
Drama
Original Language
English
Release Date (Theaters)
Jun 20, 1931, Original
Release Date (Streaming)
Nov 21, 2016
Runtime
1h 31m
Sound Mix
Mono
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