Monday, April 6, 2009

Eye Candy of the Day: A Free Soul

I've posted a lot of gorgeous eye candy since I started this blog, but I have to say this may be one of the prettiest. Not only did Doctor macro come through with a still of Gable and Shearer together (many of the publicity images for the film understandably feature its stars Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer), but I wanted to talk about the smokin' hot "dress" that she wears in this scene. Also, I love the way the scene is lit so that her hair has that halo effect. Every time I watch a Norma Shearer movie I have the sudden urge to get a perm. It must be the lighting!

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of A Free Soul, especially in comparison to The Divorcee which was made just a year earlier. A Free Soul is better written, her character far more daring and interesting, the acting vastly better, and the production values are miles ahead. This feels almost like a mid-thirties film. The sound if not great, is at least fully audible, and the flow and the pace of the film are much more like a talkie than a silent.

I've said before that Norma Shearer is an actress who is really only good when she is acting with other people of her level of talent. Many great actors will make bad material and weak co-stars better, but Shearer wasn't able to do that. Here, thankfully, she clicks with everyone on screen . Luckily everyone in the movie (Gable, Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore and James Gleason) are also excellent. Her co-stars are so good that it would be tempting to say that they carry her, but that is not the case. Lionel Barrymore won an Oscar for his performance as her alcoholic father and that award came mainly for a long monologue he delivers in a courtroom. It is very over the top, but Barrymore doesn't go too far. A big scene like that is risky in that if it fails it will be as memorably bad as it is good. Barrymore nails it and he deserves his accolades. But Norma Shearer is in the scene too, holding her own.

Clark Gable is probably the most interesting thing in the film. It was clear that he was going to be a star and he and Shearer have an incandescent chemistry. The infamous scene where he shoves Shearer back onto the sofa, plays as fairly tame today. His character is reasonably sympathetic most of the way through and in many ways this film marks a turning point in attitudes toward "antiheroes." The New York Times review in 1931 said that it was absurd that a woman like Shearer would be romantically interest in Gable's character. Now it seems absurd that Leslie Howard would have a shot at all.


SteveQ said...

I've got a movie mystery in my latest post that you or your followers might be able to solve (Old Dark House movie, but not "The Old Dark House.")

Irena said...

I watched "Free Soul" for the sake of Clark Gable and it did surprise me with the quality of the script.
Of course, I was disappointed that Gable is a bad guy :) - even though he was excellent in this role. The contrast between his dashing looks and charm and his gangster nature
was not immediately obvious and free soul's attraction to him was totally justified.