Hector Stribling (Henry Stephenson) is an English lawyer in Paris, married to a woman named Jewel (Vivian Tobin). One night, he invites his friend Gordon (Clive Brook), his friend Tono (Nils Asther), and Tono’s wife Sarah (Irene Dunne) to dinner. Gordon is preparing to get divorced, and Hector hopes the dinner will give him an evening of distraction.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Sarah’s marriage is also in shambles. Tono is an angry, threatening man, and he’s cheating on Sarah.
Sarah and Gordon connect over their shared marital despair. Gordon suggests that Sarah should divorce Tono and come to London with him. She comes to London, but hasn’t yet divorced Tono, though she and Gordon soon agree that they’d marry if they “were free.”
Can Gordon and Sarah escape their marriages and find happiness together, or will they be doomed to lives of unhappiness and bad marriages?
If I Were Free was directed by Elliot Nugent and written by Dwight Taylor.
If I Were Free is a film with a talented cast, but material that just doesn’t live up to their talents. Tono is cruel and crazy, pointing a gun at Sarah, threatening her, and trying to manipulate her. She stands up for herself somewhat, and calls it a “cheerful thought” when someone suggests he may be dead, but doesn’t commit to divorcing him, despite his cheating and cruelty. The viewer feels for her early on and wants better for her. The situation is frustrating to watch.
Though the viewer feels for Dunne in particular, the film just doesn’t grip the viewer. I wanted a good outcome for her, but couldn’t get into the story no matter how much I tried. This is the type of film that makes it very easy to become distracted while watching.
I would credit the lack of viewer engagement partly to the script, and partly to the lack of chemistry between Clive Brook and Irene Dunne. Perhaps with a different leading man, the viewer would become more firmly invested in the relationship, and therefore more engaged in the film on the whole… but the script would still have its problems. The film even goes for emotional punch with a surprise medical diagnosis for Gordon, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care.
I can’t say I’d recommend this film to anyone. Even for die-hard Dunne fans (who will probably want to see it if they’re completists), there are much better marital dramas to tune in for starring the actress.