23 April 2000 | Ron Oliver
Lionel Barrymore Gives An Oscar Winning Acting Lesson
They are alike, this father & daughter. Liberal, passionate, willful - they live life on their own terms, disdaining their narrow-minded relations. Few regrets & even fewer apologies cloud either conscious - yet each harbors a character trait that threatens to destroy them. Hers is emotional instability; his, acute alcoholism. Although both will make bad choices that will haunt them, each will continue to see their reflection in the other, unique & individual, A FREE SOUL.
Based on a book by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Norma Shearer gets top billing in this aged but enjoyable soap opera, and she is very good, turning on the histrionics most effectively. But it is Lionel Barrymore who gets full honors - and a Best Actor Oscar - for his portrayal of her brilliant, tragic, lawyer father. Masterfully, he dominates his every scene. His final appearance, a tempestuous summation to a murder trial jury, is considered a classic.
Playing the two very different men in Shearer's life are Clark Gable & Leslie Howard. Gable is excellent, oozing the virility that was about to make him a huge star. Howard deftly underplays his less flashy role and becomes the film's calm center. James Gleason as Barrymore's factotum, and Lucy Beaumont as Barrymore's patrician mother, both give memorable performances. Film mavens will spot Edward Brophy as one of Gable's henchmen & master stutterer Roscoe Ates as the man in the washroom window.