Robert Z. Leonard | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Rankings

Films: Delicious Little Devil | Dancing Lady | After Office Hours | The Firefly | Pride and Prejudice | Too Young to Kiss

Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors) | 1910's Articles

Robert Z. Leonard

Robert Z. Leonard is an American film director. Two of his best films are the silent romantic comedy Delicious Little Devil, and his delightful version of Pride and Prejudice.

Robert Z. Leonard: Subjects

Women: Work: Locales:

Robert Z. Leonard: Structure and Story Telling

Story Structure:

Robert Z. Leonard: Visual Style

Geometry and Architecture: Settings: Costumes:


Here are ratings for various films directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.

Feature films:

Delicious Little Devil

Delicious Little Devil (1919) is a silent "romantic comedy". While slapstick comedies are the most famous comic films of the 1910's, Hollywood also made non-slapstick films in much the same mode as what we now call "romantic comedies". Young Romance (George Melford, 1915) is another example, also a film of real charm.


The heroine, main protagonist and title character of Delicious Little Devil is the confluence of a series of Robert Z. Leonard archetypes: vivacious dancer, a working woman, a heroine with a secret life, an unglamorous heroine who transforms herself.

Delicious Little Devil is probably available on DVD, because it co-stars a young on-his-way-up Rudolph Valentino. Valentino is in a good guy supporting role, not one of the villains he sometimes played at this stage of his career. Valentino is in an archetypal male role in Leonard, a decent young heir. While light-hearted, he is a bit less comic than some later Leonard heirs. Valentino is an example of the "big talents in supporting roles" one sometimes sees in Leonard.


Road houses already had a racy air in prose mystery fiction of the era. In Richard Harding Davis' "The Frame-Up" (1915), a road house is the scene of crime and corruption. This is more serious than the simple raciness of Delicious Little Devil. Nightclubs in general were part of a new sense of sexual possibilities for Americans in the 1910's, in a way that anticipates the Jazz Age of the 1920's: see "The Social Gangster" (in book form in 1916) by Arthur B. Reeve.

The newspaper articles, and briefly seen reporters, show a society already interested in both the press and publicity. Publicity will return as a subject in The Great Ziegfeld.


Early scenes show steam from the mother's laundry, smoke from a pipe, and small flames from an overhead gas light. The finale of Leonard's thriller The Bribe will be full of fireworks, jets of flame, and sparklers. The Great Ziegfeld opens with fireworks and jets of flame.

Circular Architecture

The heroine's bath has a circular arched door. Similar doors will appear on the hero's World's Fair theater in The Great Ziegfeld.

The dinner party has an unusual light fixture overhead. It is full of circular fringed units.

The strange metalwork "tree" in the road house, is full of spirals. It anticipates a bit, the tree of Asian lanterns near Madame Butterfly, in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" in The Great Ziegfeld.

A brink will be in a glass case on a desk. Years later, The Great Ziegfeld will show a glass case with flowers in conservatory.

Dancing Lady

Dancing Lady (1933) is a musical.

Dancing Lady includes such Leonard subjects as a dancer heroine, working women, people getting hired, a young heir, and men and women using sports are a shared social activity.

The Finale

Dancing Lady is at its best in a spectacular musical number at the end, "Rhythm of the Day". This shows old-fashioned people in Court costume recalling maybe Louis XIV, magically transformed into go-getting contemporaries. It is a hymn to Modernity.

Adrian's costumes are especially vivid. They remind us that he will later do an even better fantasy, The Wizard of Oz (1939).

The modern people drive vehicles, including a motorcycle and car. Their costumes are spectacular.

Architecture and Settings

The huge swimming pool is one of Leonard's indoor pools. It has a circular platform in its middle, with a rising circular bar in its center.

The Bavarian dance number with Fred Astaire is set on a circular platform. Its circularity is underlined, when beer glasses are placed all around its edge in a circle.

The carousel at the end is truly spectacular. It becomes kaleidoscopic.

The Go signs at the end are examples of both the strange artificial tree-like structures and metal work in Leonard's films.

After Office Hours

After Office Hours (1935) is a pleasant mix of romance, comedy, and mystery. None of these elements are ever allowed to over balance the others. As is usual with Leonard, a graceful, genteel tone is established and maintained throughout.

The script is full of intelligent references to current events. These do not seem to be didactic or politically motivated. Instead, these references seem designed to add interest to the dialogue.

Clark Gable: Work and Class

Clark Gable plays a fast talking newspaper man who will do anything for a story. Such characters were already well established in other writers' and directors' plays and films. One thinks immediately of The Front Page and of Roy Del Ruth's Blessed Event (1932). Gable's character is less extreme than the denizens of those films. Gable is chiefly motivated by a desire to expose a big time crook. This is rightly seen as a worthwhile goal by the film. So all his hustling is mainly viewed as a newspaper man simply doing his job.

Gable's ability to hold down a successful job was clearly a key part of his characterization in the midst of the Depression. The way he is flourishing through hard work, talent and aggressiveness is a fantasy model of success for an economically battered audience. One sequence shows Gable in white tie and tails. This is a visual correlative for Gable's ability to move in all levels of society. Most of the writing I've seen on Gable emphasizes his toughness and his working man qualities; this seems to be how people thought about him, and how he is remembered. This is true, but also a bit misleading. Actually, many of Gable's films show him in white tie and tails. He wore this costume almost as consistently as Fred Astaire. Gable was never an aristocrat; he always was one who entered society through his own effort and work. But enter it he did. Gable often played men whose roots were in the lower classes, but who penetrated to the upper. One thinks of John M. Stahl's Parnell (1937), where he played the great Irish leader.

An Inverted Mystery

The mystery plot has a construction that is more common in books than in films. The structure is largely the same as one of R. Austin Freeman's "inverted mysteries". We see the criminal committing the crime. The audience knows everything, but none of the other characters in the film knows anything. It looks like a perfect crime. Then we follow Gable unraveling the mystery, and bringing the bad guy to justice.

The Firefly

The Firefly (1937) is an operetta.


The leads are traditional Leonard characters: As in other Leonard films, courtship plays a major role. Leonard characters seem fully adult. They are direct in their romantic expression.

Fire Displays

The procession at the start is one of Leonard's outdoor festivals with masses of people. It involves that Leonard tradition fireworks. It is also full of tossed flower petals, making a rich visual display.

The hero prepares a flaming omelet for the heroine.


The Firefly contains Leonard's circular architecture: The village inn has an outdoor staircase.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (1940) is an adaptation of Jane Austen's novel.

Pride and Prejudice recalls Leonard traditions, as exemplified by films like Delicious Little Devil. Both films deal with women of modest financial background, who are trying to impress would-be male suitors of wealth and social position. In both films, the women have to deal not just with the men, but with their families. The families act as social guardians. It is an unequal struggle. The poorer women have to deal with issues of respectability and of vulgarity, being seen as lesser in both departments by the well-to-do.


Both films are also musicals. Like other Leonard heroines, that of Pride and Prejudice is a wonderful, lively dancer. Pride and Prejudice is full of dance, song and instrumental musical numbers. Although it is rarely labeled a "musical", it is in fact a nearly full-fledged musical film.


Pride and Prejudice differs from many other Leonard films in that none of the principals works for a living. Leonard had no choice in this: it is based on a famous novel about the British leisure classes. Still, Leonard includes a number of scenes of men working, perhaps to remind us of the social reality behind the leisure.

Two young working men carry the heroine's enormous trunks to her room. The working men are fairly slender, if healthy, young men: it is clearly an effort for them - they are not the gorillas sometimes cast as working men in old Hollywood movies. The heroine politely thanks them. They reply deferentially, in a way that underscores the unfair class system of the time. The scene is designed to suggest critical feelings in the audience, and make people question the system.

Similarly, both the butler and the carriage driver are working men, who get put in slightly uncomfortable situations by orders given to them. Both cope by maintaining a formidable dignity, and absolutely rigid posture. This is their armor of "correct" behavior, that will protect them from all criticism in these situations.

Circular Architecture

Pride and Prejudice is full of circular architecture and decor.

Some of it involves curved line segments, that come together to form open cones:

Leonard likes open metal work, such as the light fixture. One recalls the metal work "tree" in Delicious Little Devil.

There are other circular forms:

Too Young to Kiss

Too Young to Kiss (1951) is a comedy, set in the world of classical music.

The Two Sections of the Film

Too Young to Kisst start out well, then loses its way: The opening benefits from its setting in New York City, showing its world of culture and classical music. The rest of the film mainly takes place in the country, in Van Johnson's country home retreat. This is one of those cozy country mansions that Hollywood films used to feature. I think they are a big bore, but then I personally have never had any desire to live in the country.

The opening also benefits from Hans Conried in small role, in the audition scene. It's just a tiny, simply written part, but Conried knows how to turn this into a vivid and richly comic character. I was sorry to see he was only in this one scene.

Leonard Subjects

Too Young to Kiss is full of Robert Z. Leonard's personal subjects.

Its basic plot is similar to that of Delicious Little Devil: nice young woman in New York City, unknown and of modest background, gets a dynamic job in the entertainment world, by pretending to be something she is not. Complications ensue, but the heroine's spectacular talent and energy helps her. This is a sound plot, both entertaining and full of possibilities for observation on the world. It allows both Too Young to Kiss and Delicious Little Devil to explore Leonard subjects such as a working woman, a heroine with a secret life, and people getting hired.

Too Young to Kiss substitutes new professions, for those of the characters in Delicious Little Devil. These new professions are also Leonard traditions, though. They keep Too Young to Kiss personal for Leonard:

Male Chauvinism

The sympathetic heroine in Too Young to Kiss suffers badly from what we now call male chauvinism. The film likes the heroine and her attitude, and disapproves of the chauvinistic attitudes of the two men in her life: Male Chauvinism and the problems it causes women is a theme running through Leonard's work.

Feminists, including myself, will agree with and applaud Leonard's insightful treatment and condemnation of male chauvinism. They will also applaud the heroine's admirable determination to build a career, a career which happens to be in a male dominated profession.

However, the heroine of Too Young to Kiss is not aware of feminism as an explicit political movement. She never talks about feminism, does not say the two men are in violation of feminism, that their attitudes of marriage-instead-of-career and paternalism are standard problems of male chauvinism, or seek help from other women in the feminist movement. She struggles along an individual, without recognizing that her problems are political, that they are shared by millions of other women, or that she might get help or support from other feminists.

Too Young to Kiss thus explores intelligently the feminist goal of building a career on equal terms with men in a male-dominated profession, and the male chauvinist obstacles to women having a fulfilling equal life. It is full of feminist ideas - but never recognizes feminism as a movement.

Long Range Problems

Too Young to Kiss explores some of the same problems as such later Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies as Lover Come Back. We have a decent working woman heroine, trying to become successful through hard work and skill, and a man of dubious integrity who has become fabulously successful not through work, but through charm, emotional manipulation and promiscuous sexuality. The two meet, have farcical complications, and eventually live happily ever after.

However, while I believe that such a pair could easily produce "complications", I'm not sure about the "happily ever after" part. The man's problems never actually get resolved. He is a manipulator who has schemed his way through life. And he treats the heroine poorly. Is this a foundation for long range marital success? Isn't this guy badly flawed? The hero is handsome and rich. Does this make him a Good Guy? Should the heroine commit her life to him?


SPOILERS. A nice bit at the children's classical music audition offers a pro-black comment on race. Off-screen, we hear a superb performance by an auditioning young violinist. Then a cut to the stage reveals the performer is black. This undercuts viewer preconceptions of classical musicians being white.


Too Young to Kiss suffers from a restricted budget. The best settings are in the opening New York classical music section. Even these are none-too-spectacular.

A patio umbrella outside Van Johnson's country home, is the closest to any circular architecture in Too Young to Kiss.