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Irene Dunne was on her way to making a name for herself in Hollywood (mostly in melodramas) when she made the RKO soap opera If I Were Free in 1933. In it, Dunne plays Sarah, an American woman living in beautiful Paris, but trapped in a bad marriage to a philandering cad (Nils Asther). Miserable and on the brink of ending it all, Sarah meets Gordon (Clive Brook), a brooding English barrister trapped in his own dead-end marriage. The two belong with each other but before they can be together, their love must triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds including uncooperative spouses, a life-threatening illness, and meddlesome friends.
Despite the clichd material, the top notch cast of If I Were Free breathes life into the somber drama. Irene Dunne and Clive Brook bring tremendous sensitivity to their characters, making them rich and three dimensional. Former silent star Nils Asther is deliciously smarmy as Dunne's cheating husband, and Laura Hope Crews delights as Gordon's sympathetic mother.
Dwight Taylor adapted the screenplay from the original theatrical production Behold We Live by John Van Druten. The play ran on the London stage during 1932 and starred Gertrude Lawrence and Gerald du Maurier in the leading roles.
If I Were Free premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York on January 4, 1934 to generally positive reviews. "By dodging the stereotyped stuff," wrote Mordaunt Hall in his New York Times review, "the picture offers quite an agreeable surprise, and if the various happenings are somewhat humdrum they are relieved by occasional witty lines and colorful touches."
Irene Dunne fans will appreciate her nuanced performance as the beleaguered Sarah. They will also enjoy hearing her trained lyric soprano voice as she sings a few informal songs within the film including an a cappella version of "Early Rising."
The legendary Merian C. Cooper of King Kong (1933) fame served as Executive Producer on If I Were Free during his stint as head of RKO.
Producer: Merian C. Cooper, Kenneth Macgowan
Director: Elliott Nugent
Screenplay: Dwight Taylor, John Van Druten (play)
Cinematography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editing: Arthur Roberts
Art Direction: Charles Kirk, Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Irene Dunne (Sarah Cazenove), Clive Brook (Gordon Evers), Nils Asther (Tono Casanove), Henry Stephenson (Hector Stribling), Vivian Tobin (Jewel Stribling), Laura Hope Crews (Dame Evers).
BW-66m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume