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
- Heroines who are vivacious dancers (Mae Murray: Delicious Little Devil,
Joan Crawford: Dancing Lady,
Jeanette MacDonald: The Firefly,
social dances: Pride and Prejudice,
Judy Garland and "I Don't Care": In the Good Old Summertime,
Marge Champion: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Woman instrumentalists (piano: Pride and Prejudice, violin: In the Good Old Summertime,
piano: Too Young to Kiss)
- Sports as male-female social activity (hero and heroine in gymnasium: Dancing Lady,
archery: Pride and Prejudice)
- Unglamorous women who get transformations (Delicious Little Devil, Let Us Be Gay)
related (people transformed to modern clothes: Dancing Lady)
- Heroines with secret lives (nice girl-dancer: Delicious Little Devil, dancer-spy: The Firefly,
heroine masquerades as teen girl: Too Young to Kiss)
- Working women (dancer: Delicious Little Devil,
dancer: Dancing Lady, reporter: After Office Hours,
sales clerk heroine, Spring Byington: In the Good Old Summertime,
pianist: Too Young to Kiss,
dancer: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Wives who cope with male chauvinist husbands (Let Us Be Gay,
boyfriend wants heroine to give up career and marry: Too Young to Kiss,
husband doesn't want wife to work: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Pregnant women (Stand by for Action, Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Newspaper articles and reporters (Delicious Little Devil, hero and heroine: After Office Hours,
The Great Ziegfeld, reporter boyfriend, newspaper article: Too Young to Kiss)
- Young heirs, both comic and sympathetic (Rudolph Valentino: Delicious Little Devil,
Franchot Tone: Dancing Lady,
Allan Jones: The Firefly, Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy: Pride and Prejudice,
Robert Taylor: Stand by for Action)
- Tough older working men (fathers, uncle: Delicious Little Devil,
Brian Donlevy: Stand by for Action) related (scenes of men working: Pride and Prejudice)
- People getting hired (heroine as dancer: Delicious Little Devil,
heroine as dancer: Dancing Lady,
heroine as reporter: After Office Hours, show biz acts: The Great Ziegfeld, crew: Stand by for Action,
heroine at music store: In the Good Old Summertime,
concert pianist, opera singers: Too Young to Kiss,
dancers: Everything I Have Is Yours,
television: The Clown, early talking films: Kelly and Me)
- Impresarios (Ziegfeld: The Great Ziegfeld, hero: Too Young to Kiss)
- Small boats (After Office Hours, boats on small lake: Pride and Prejudice)
- Festive street crowds (dancer and organ grinder: Delicious Little Devil, World's Fair: The Great Ziegfeld,
King's procession at start: The Firefly, outdoor party: Pride and Prejudice, carnival finale: The Bribe)
Robert Z. Leonard: Structure and Story Telling
- Big talents in supporting roles (Rudolph Valentino: Delicious Little Devil,
Fred Astaire, Nelson Eddy: Dancing Lady,
Ray Bolger, Fanny Brice: The Great Ziegfeld,
Edmund Gwenn, Edna May Oliver: Pride and Prejudice,
Charles Laughton: Stand by for Action,
Buster Keaton: In the Good Old Summertime,
Hans Conried: Too Young to Kiss)
Robert Z. Leonard: Visual Style
Geometry and Architecture:
- Circular architecture (light fixture: Delicious Little Devil,
Bavarian dance platform, swimming pool and platform, carousel in finale: Dancing Lady,
revolving staircase in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", large drum behind Pagliacci: The Great Ziegfeld,
Madrid fountain, tubs: The Firefly,
pavilion, maypole, light fixture, archery target, drive in house front, food still lifes: Pride and Prejudice,
chandelier over stage, Christmas bunting hanging in store: In the Good Old Summertime,
patio umbrella: Too Young to Kiss)
- Circular arches (heroine's bathroom: Delicious Little Devil, hero's stand at World's Fair: The Great Ziegfeld,
Madrid dance hall, Bayonne town gate: The Firefly, arching windows: Pride and Prejudice,
vestibule of Judy Garland's home, restaurant, backstage: In the Good Old Summertime)
- Indoor pools (sunken bathtub: Delicious Little Devil,
giant swimming pool: Dancing Lady,
boathouse: After Office Hours)
- Fire and smoke (steam from laundry, pipe smoke, gas jet flames: Delicious Little Devil,
opening fireworks, mirror shined on audience: The Great Ziegfeld,
fireworks, flaming omelet: The Firefly,
fireworks, flame jets in finale: The Bribe,
mist in fantasy ballet: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Outdoor staircases (road house: Delicious Little Devil, village inn: The Firefly, finale: The Bribe)
- Glass cases on desk (brick: Delicious Little Devil, flowers in conservatory: The Great Ziegfeld)
- Strange artificial tree-like structures (metalwork "tree" in the road house: Delicious Little Devil,
standard with Go signs in finale: Dancing Lady,
tree of Asian lanterns near Madame Butterfly in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody": The Great Ziegfeld)
- Metalwork (metalwork "tree" in the road house: Delicious Little Devil,
standard with Go signs in finale: Dancing Lady,
light fixture in the billiard room: Pride and Prejudice)
- Kinetic architecture (rising bar in pool platform: Dancing Lady,
revolving set in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", extending stage in "You Never Looked So Beautiful": The Great Ziegfeld,
train pulling out: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- Streamers or strings ("You Gotta Pull Strings": The Great Ziegfeld,
maypole: Pride and Prejudice)
- Military dress uniforms, seen as comic (waltzing men in white uniforms in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody": The Great Ziegfeld,
Napoleonic uniforms: The Firefly,
Pride and Prejudice, hero: Stand by for Action,
dancer-hero's spectacular stage uniform: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- White clothes (Franchot Tone's white suit: Dancing Lady,
"A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", white suits in "You Never Looked So Beautiful", other numbers: The Great Ziegfeld,
tropical clothes: The Bribe,
violinist's dress, Judy Garland's complex coat and muff: In the Good Old Summertime,
hero's robe: Too Young to Kiss,
hero's tuxedo and heroine's dress in fantasy ballet: Everything I Have Is Yours)
- White tie and tails (Franchot Tone: Dancing Lady,
Clark Gable as successful newspaper man: After Office Hours,
hero, musicians, audience, Dennis Morgan and men on staircase in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody": The Great Ziegfeld,
Sakall, barbershop quartet: In the Good Old Summertime,
conductor, orchestra, man in restaurant: Too Young to Kiss,
Vittorio Gassman: Beautiful But Dangerous)
- Antique court costume (final number: Dancing Lady,
Humoresque in "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody", costume ball: The Great Ziegfeld)
Here are ratings for various films directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended.
- Delicious Little Devil ***
- A Lady of Chance *
- Let Us Be Gay **1/2
- Dancing Lady **1/2 (musical finale: ***)
- After Office Hours **1/2
- Piccadilly Jim **1/2
- The Firefly **
- Pride and Prejudice ***1/2
- Stand by for Action **1/2
- In the Good Old Summertime **1/2
- Too Young to Kiss *1/2 (audition scene: **1/2)
- Everything I Have Is Yours *
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.
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 (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.
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
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
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 (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.
- The heroine is a lively dancer. She is an exotic dancer in a tavern, recalling
the heroine of Delicious Little Devil. There is more emphasis on Jeanette MacDonald
dancing, than in many of her roles.
- Hero Allan Jones seems to be a man who has inherited some money, and who lives a
life of pleasure and fun. He is not as rich as some Leonard heirs, however.
The hero is completely non-military, making a contrast to the fancily uniformed soldiers
hanging around, as in Pride and Prejudice.
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.
- The Madrid saloon where the heroine dances is full of circular arches.
- The gate of Bayonne is also an arch.
- The fountain in Madrid is circular.
- So are the tubs used by the hero and heroine for their baths.
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
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.
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.
- The chandelier at the Assembly. (It also has a circle of prisms around each candle.)
- The maypole.
- The pavilion at the outdoors fete, where archery is practiced.
- The light fixture in the billiard room.
- Even the lobsters at the supper, are arranged on the plate to make a similar
conical design. The whole supper dishes make beautiful geometric forms, often circular.
There are other circular forms:
- A circular mirror in the entrance hall at the Assembly.
- The circular dances.
- The arching windows in the background.
- Giant round pillars.
- Curved chairs on the swings.
- The archery target, and the bow.
- The round drive leading up to the front door.
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 section looks at an unknown young
classical pianist (June Alison) and her attempt to get a contract with a famous impresario
(Van Johnson). This is fun. It includes a good audition scene, where the heroine plays
Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude".
- Then the picture switches subject matter, and concentrates
on Alison's impersonation of a fourteen-year-old, and the comedy complications this causes.
This is more weird than enjoyable or insightful. In any case, the film's inspiration flags badly.
This second section takes up most of the film's running time.
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.
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:
- The heroine was a dancer in Delicious Little Devil,
but is a woman classical musician in Too Young to Kiss.
- The heroine's boyfriend was a young heir in Delicious Little Devil,
but is a newspaper reporter (Gig Young) in Too Young to Kiss.
- The heroine's new boyfriend (Van Johnson) in Too Young to Kiss is an impresario.
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.
- The heroine wants a career as a classic pianist. She has been working hard since age 6 to obtain this.
- Her newspaperman boyfriend wants her to quit her career and get married to him.
He will still allow her to play the piano at home, but not professionally.
- The impresario will only hire her when he thinks she is 14 years old.
Even though he likes the heroine's playing, he wants a young girl. His explicit reason
is that a child prodigy is much more marketable than an adult musician.
Under the surface though, there is a subtext of him wanting a paternalistic relationship
with a child he can boss around as a father figure.
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.