Bright Lights Film Journal

A Free Soul… for Ten Dollars a Fifth.


You know that TCM Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 2 set? If you get it and expect a good time, well, watch out for Norma Shearer, that’s all I can say. She’s trouble. She’s in the first two films: MGM’s THE DIVORCEE and A FREE SOUL. If sex, drugs and hot jazz were cake, Shearer has her cake and eats it too, then feels guilty about all the calories and heads off to the Ladies room to “heroically” renounce her past actions.

That’s not heroism, Norma; that’s bulimia!

Where MGM makes its error is in presuming that their audience genuinely believes that pre-marital sex is an evil on par with murder or (gasp) gambling. Where Warners throws scenes of changing out of underwear all over the place, MGM has Shearer do it all behind partitions. When Shearer is courting her different men and raking in jewelry, we see only her hands and his and the exchange of jewels, never any mention of the implied quid pro quo, and the scenes have the un-enjoyable air of something done in a bathroom stall, sober, terrified, with three paranoid look-outs. As Dave Kehr puts it: the “heavy hand of MGM respectability presses down,” forcing her to realize “that such dalliances are meaningless without love, marriage and the promise of a family.”

(To read the rest of this, which goes off on a tangent about Andrew Sarris and William Wellman, go to my Acidemic site, “hiccup!”).