No, I love it.
I don’t know. You’re just a new kind of man in a new kind of world.
In A Free Soul, Norma Shearer finds herself torn between influences. There’s her rakish, alcoholic father played by Lionel Barrymore; then there’s Leslie Howard, her dull, but wealthy fiancée; then there’s Clark Gable, the exciting, but dangerous gangster. This film has a nice set-up, but it’s really pretty ridiculous by the end. It’s good for a while, especially when it’s exploring the father-daughter relationship; Shearer and Barrymore have good chemistry and Barrymore, who won an Oscar for this performance, is very good. Clark Gable is also really great in a fairly small supporting part; at first, he’s sexy and exciting, but toward the end of the film, he has a really terrific scene, the only decent scene in the last third of the movie, in which you see him reveal his cruelty and menace. It’s a knockout scene, surely one of the ones that helped boost him to stardom not long after this. The film sets up a nice dynamic between these characters, though Howard is barely able to make his character register, but the last half of the film just gets more and more ridiculous via a series of absurd plot twists. The film culminates in a trial scene that is just one of the most absurdly hilarious things I’ve ever seen. It’s the film reaching for some real transcendence in, most especially, the father daughter relationship, but it’s just so incredibly over-the-top and snaps credulity right in two that I found myself repeatedly laughing out loud. It’s a film with good things in it. Barrymore is really excellent until the script lets him down. And Gable is electrifying every time the camera’s on him. But on the whole, there’s just too much ridiculous stuff here to recommend this one. Too bad. 1 ½ stars.
tl;dr – well cast film has pleasures, but the longer the film goes, the more ridiculous the story becomes; the last half is such a train-wreck that even a pretty good first half can’t save it. 1 ½ stars.