Sunday, December 25, 2011

Norma Shearer, in A Free Soul

approximately 66 minutes and 4 seconds

71.6% of the film

The film

An alcoholic lawyer who successfully defended a notorious gambler on a murder charge objects when his free-spirited daughter becomes romantically involved with him.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

A Free Soul is a nice melodrama, with an interesting story. While the screenplay has its obvious flaws, the acting goes from ok to impressive, with a lot of familiar faces giving enjoyable performances. It also has the advantage of not feeling so dated.

Norma Shearer as Jan Ashe

Call me subjective and given that this is the first Norma Shearer Oscar-nominated performance I see, I’m definitely not informed enough to give such verdicts: but, oh I like this lady. Maybe I’m seduced by her prettiness, her status as Hollywood royalty or that lovely smile… but it’s clear: I like her and everytime she came on screen in this 1930s melodrama I was either smiling or very moved by that emotional scene.

Norma plays Jan Ashe, the rich, free-spirited daughter of an alcoholic lawyer who breaks-up with her fiancé after she falls in love with a gambler that her father defended. Jan tries to save her self-destructive father, while also realizing the mistakes she’s making in her romantic life. It’s a role with plenty of drama attached to it, that becomes lighter and more romantic everytime Norma smiles and Jan starts flirting with one or another.

So for the most part it’s not a tense performance, and this fits Norma perfectly. Often enough she is radiant, elegant, joyous, as she charismatically nails both the aristocratic side of Jan, and also the down-to-earth happy girl, so easy to fall in love with. The film puts a lot of focus on the idea that Jan is a very strong minded, independent woman, given her more liberal education.

That doesn’t hurt the character, and again: it fits what Norma has to bring, as her own persona does give the impression of an emancipated, modern woman. The way Jan flirts is also well done, leaving the impression of a fun young woman, confident in her charms, playful but never too aggressive.

While this is all easy to admire, her best acting comes in her scenes with her father. The father-daughter relationship is the most emotional one in the film and it also feels unusually honest. Often enough, I don’t fall for this, but in the case of A Free Soul this family connection feels very authentic and it’s the emotional core of the film. There are plenty of scenes to prove it and in which to admire Norma’s more dramatic abilities, but the most impressive one has to be the final courtroom scene.

Jan taking the stand in the murder trial (which I won’t spoil) is probably the best scene in the film, with Norma equally great throughout; you’ll see tears, big revealing, shame and beautifully acted devotion and love towards her father. That scene is good, complemented by Lionel Barrymore’s impressive performance.

Norma gives a fine performance, ranging from flirtatious and fun to dramatic, teary-eyed and very emotional. I’m sure some would say she’s overacting at times, but I enjoyed it; it’s not the most challenging role ever, nor a masterpiece of a performance, but a damn good one. An easy from me.


dinasztie said...

Very interesting review. I also like Norma very much.

dinasztie said...

And also: Crăciun fericit! :)

Fritz said...

Merry Christmas to you!

For me, there was a little too much artificial acting from her but overall, she was quite good.

Alex in Movieland said...

thank you. :) Merry Christmas to you too.

- hmmm... I thought Marie Dressler gave a bit more of this "artificial acting" than Norma. Hard to judge 1930s acting, as it had just come out of the silent era.

Anonymous said...

Hi,Alex.Do you still having problem finding Country(1984).I was just on your youtube chaannel,and you listed it among movies you cant find?If you still didn't find it,go to,you have to register on this site (completely free)and then download it(go to regular download,its only 396Mb,but quality is pretty good,at least i watched it on GOM player)

Calum Reed said...

Man, I found she and Barrymore to be terrible in that courtroom scene. It was way, way too overwrought. Embarrassing.

But I did like her charming affection for him in the first half of the film, and most of her scenes with Clark Gable. Nobody could wear a cocktail dress quite like Norma.

Two stars from me.

Alex in Movieland said...

Both of them embarassing?? :)) Wow, I thought that was good. I was actually touched by his guilt in that scene.

Anonymous said...

Have you downloaded country(1984)?Did you find it?Picture is terrible when you watch it on vinamp,but on GOM player its pretty good.

Alex in Movieland said...


did go there. But I think a friend will be sending it to me. thanks anyway