Mervyn LeRoy | Subjects | Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style | Rankings

Films: Three on a Match | Heat Lightning | Happiness Ahead | The King and the Chorus Girl | Johnny Eager | Quo Vadis | Strange Lady in Town | Toward the Unknown | The FBI Story | The Devil at 4 O'Clock

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Mervyn LeRoy

Mervyn LeRoy is a Hollywood film director.

Mervyn LeRoy: Subjects

Subjects in Mervyn LeRoy films: Minorities and the Oppressed: Public Display: The Sky: Imagery: Technology: Classical Music:

Mervyn LeRoy: Structure and Story Telling

Semi-Documentary (Please see my chart Semi-documentary crime films for a list of Semi-documentary films and their key characteristics.):

Mervyn LeRoy: Visual Style

Architecture: Architecture and Geometry: Color: Costumes and Color: Costumes:


Here are ratings for various films directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Everything at least **1/2 is recommended. The ratings go from one to four stars. All of these films are ones I've seen.


Rating Mervyn LeRoy's films can be difficult. For example: Random Harvest is a routine, uncreative film with labored storytelling. It can thus be boring to sit through. Yet it has an archetypal Old Movie plot and sympathetic stars, that should appeal to Old Movie Fans. It don't think it's a good movie - but I'm glad I saw it. Other films that aren't that good-as-a-whole but I'm glad I saw: Toward the Unknown.

Three on a Match

Three on a Match (1932) is melodrama about three young women and their lives. Three on a Match is an absorbing but remarkably unpleasant movie. Basically, it is a story about how a woman's sex addiction to a handsome but worthless boyfriend causes her to ruin the lives of everyone around her. Nothing matters, as long as she gets sexual fulfillment. Things go from bad to worse to really, really bad.

Three on a Match anticipates Johnny Eager, another unpleasant film in which a respectable woman gets involved with a bad boy she finds sexually appealing, and then is led to total disaster. Both films take LeRoy's often comic subject of "wealthy person runs away to live among ordinary people", and give it a tragic twist. All the anti-heroine of Three on a Match gets when she runs away from home to live with her boyfriend, is trouble.

In some ways, the anti-heroine's ruthlessness anticipates The Women, in which a man's desire for a no-good girlfriend causes similar home-wrecking. However, The Women has a political dimension about men having more power than women, which is lacking in Three on a Match.

Warren William plays the "good guy" rival to the bad boy. He is unable to trigger any sort of feelings at all in the heroine. He is rich, kind, well-dressed, and clearly likes sex (William often played rich, roue sophisticates in pre-code films). None of this matters to the anti-heroine at all. She wants her handsome boyfriend.

Gay Themes

Bette Davis plays a nice governess, but one who seemingly takes no interest in men. She does seem fond of her friend (Joan Blondell), and one wonders if this governess is a lesbian.

The woman's reform school also includes a woman who swears off men, as the source of all trouble.


LeRoy is an anti-racist, pro-Civil Rights director. The public school in Three on a Match has sympathetic (if a bit broadly played) Jewish characters. And there is a briefly seen Asian student playing the piano in the school orchestra.

The briefly seen black chauffeur is dignified and non-stereotyped. He makes a notable contrast to all the stereotyped black characters in 1930's Hollywood films.

Heat Lightning

Heat Lightning (1934) is a drama set in the American Southwest.

Like Mervyn LeRoy's Strange Lady in Town, the film has a vivid US desert setting. Both films show a respect for their Hispanic characters.

Mervyn LeRoy made films about medical clinics in remote areas: Strange Lady in Town, The Devil at 4 O'Clock. The gas station/cafe/motel in Heat Lightning resembles them, in that it is a compound in a distant, isolated locale. However, it does not offer medical care. Providing car repair might be something of an equivalent, however.

The Heroine

The heroine is like a proletarian version of Mervyn LeRoy's woman scientists to come. Madame Curie is a physicist and the heroine of Strange Lady in Town is a doctor. The heroine of Heat Lightning runs a garage and specializes in auto repair. She is explicitly doing what society believes is "man's work", doing it very well, and deliberately smashing sexist stereotypes, and showing the world that a woman can do anything. While she is not a full-fledged scientist, she is a technician with huge skills.

Also, she is explicitly helping people, like the idealistic characters in Strange Lady in Town, The Devil at 4 O'Clock. She fixes cars better than they were before, and the mere existence of the service station is a huge help to distressed desert motorists, as the dialogue emphasizes.

Mervyn LeRoy's films are full of well-to-do people who have run away from home, and founded new lives. Once again, the heroine of Heat Lightning was never well-to-do. But she has indeed run away from her old frivolous life in Tulsa, and created a new profession and existence for herself in the desert.

The heroine is linked to imagery that suggests she might be lesbian. She wears exceptionally mannish work clothes, and makes speeches denouncing heterosexual relationships as leading to disaster. She does have a straight side, in her past and in later sections of the film, however. The heroine is highly sympathetic, and the film seems to respect her alternative approach to gender and sexuality.

Bad Boys

Leading man Preston Foster plays another of Mervyn LeRoy's Bad Boys: sexy men who are evil and up to no good. Foster's bank robber ruins the lives of everyone he encounters. Like Robert Taylor in Johnny Eager, Foster is duded up to the max in dressy clothes. Both men are definitely city slicker types.

Some Mervyn LeRoy films square off a Bad Boy against a Good Guy rival. In Heat Lightning, such a Nice Guy is the heroine's gentle local friend Everett (Willard Robinson). He is dressed in clothes that recall State Troopers or forest rangers: what might be called "country macho".

Mervyn LeRoy's Bad Boys hurt men who are under their thumb, too. Robert Taylor victimizes best friend Van Heflin in Johnny Eager. In Heat Lightning, Foster keeps getting his much more decent fellow crook Lyle Talbot in worse and worse trouble.


The service bay under the cars is one of Le Roy's underground areas. It perhaps relates to the secret rooms that run through LeRoy - although it is not secret. Like the area behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, it is a technological center.

Happiness Ahead

Happiness Ahead (1934) is a little musical comedy. Its first half hour is much better than the rest of the film: it is a typically uneven Mervyn LeRoy movie.

Links to Gold Diggers of 1933

Many of the themes recall Gold Diggers of 1933:

Pro-Business, Pro-Work

However, Happiness Ahead is actually very sympathetic to its upper class businessman. Unlike Sergei Eisenstein, who loathed wealthy businessmen and made them the center of his satire, Mervyn LeRoy reserves his scorn for rich people who are idle, do not work, and who spend their time in Society. Unlike Eisenstein, LeRoy's philosophy here is not Communism, it is the plain old Capitalist Work Ethic. LeRoy also glorifies the Dick Powell character, a working class guy who is trying to start a business of his own. He is not too proud to work along side his men, but he wants to be their boss and business owner as well.

Superimposition - and Sky Figures

Happiness Ahead opens with a striking shot of Dick Powell singing, superimposed against a sky. The effect is if he were a supernatural being, offering advice from a higher and better world. His song is a prediction of Happiness Ahead for the audience, so it is a futuristic forecast, as well.

Superimpositions and dissolves were at their height in this era: see Sternberg's extraordinary dissolves in Shanghai Express (1932), for instance. Allan Dwan had superimposed shots of the Three Musketeers over clouds at the end of The Iron Mask (1929), to convey that they were immortals. Here Mervyn LeRoy does something similar right from the start. The people on the silver screen have always looked larger than life anyway. LeRoy's startling effect underscores this in spades.

Later in the Mervyn LeRoy produced The Wizard of Oz (1939), Glinda will appear superimposed in the sky above Dorothy, working her magic protective spells. Glinda is an actual fantastic being with magical powers, something that was only suggested in the earlier film. In both cases, the sky being is benevolent. In both, it is trying to help and watch over someone, Dorothy in Oz, the audience in Happiness Ahead. One also recalls the giant figurine which is set afire as part of the fiesta in Strange Lady in Town. It too is designed to help people magically with their troubles.

New Year's Eve

After this, the film moves fairly rapidly to its great set piece, the New Year's Eve celebration in the Chinese restaurant. LeRoy loved New Year's Eve scenes. This is a bigger, fancier and longer version of the one in Little Caesar (1930), which was already pretty elaborate and impressive. While at the restaurant, Dick Powell sings the film's other best song, "Pop Goes Your Heart".

The sympathetically presented, non-caricatured Chinese characters are a symbol of the film's democratic leanings.

The King and the Chorus Girl

The King and the Chorus Girl (1937) is a very sweet romantic comedy.

Fun-loving Men

The character types in this movie recall previous Mervyn LeRoy films. Little Caesar (1930) set up an opposition between the strong, tough Rico, and his weak willed friend, played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. This young man wanted to dance, not to take part in crime, and the film virtually condemns him as a wimp. However, he is a figure of glamour and romance as well. The King in the later film seems like an extension of the Fairbanks character, adapted to the needs of comedy: The King in this film is treated as a likable if easily satirized figure. This is a much more sympathetic treatment than was meted out to the Fairbanks character. I like this treatment much better. What are its underlying causes? Partly, this is a comedy, and comedies are always more sympathetic to human failings. But also, this film is not trying to glorify gangsters. I have felt a great deal of reservations about Little Caesar: Fairbanks' reluctance to get involved with crime seemed reasonable to me, but it is virtually condemned as cowardice in that film. In real life, a desire to have fun and to dance is a much more desirable quality than Little Caesar makes it appear. This latter film recognizes it.


Both Mervyn LeRoy films show a fondness for staircases. These are apartment staircases, and twisted around in spirals. Little Caesar also has a fire escape.

There are no baroque staircase angles, of the type we associate with film noir. Instead, the staircases are shown from the front, in a straight-on angle shot. They are shown as a whole. LeRoy's camera steadily watches a person climb their entire length. These staircases tend to be shot slightly from below, from a ground floor level. This emphasizes the height of the staircases.

These scenes have plenty of drama. They are related more to the spectacular sets of the silent and early sound era, than they are to the enclosed spaces and dramatic angles of film noir.

Automotive Scenes

Many Mervyn LeRoy films of the 1930's alternate between interiors and automotive scenes. These show people riding in cars, and being picked up and dropped off on the sidewalk. The automotive scenes are so common as to almost be a trademark. These scenes are usually upbeat: people usually seem happy, even festive, when they are out driving to some party or event.

Johnny Eager

Johnny Eager (1942) is a sort-of gangster movie. Its characters are less tough than those of the gangsters of the 1930 era. Instead, the film is notable for the number of juveniles among its main players: Robert Taylor, Van Heflin, Barry Nelson, Robert Sterling.

The heroine is another of Mervyn LeRoy's upper crust characters, who want to get a new life among ordinary people. However, in Johnny Eager this develops a tragic twist. The heroine winds up among gangsters, not ordinary honest people. And her life turns to tragedy, rather than the fun in LeRoy's more comic films.

Secret Rooms

Johnny Eager has a hidden suite of lavish rooms. LeRoy's earlier gangster film, Little Caesar, eventually hid its hero in a tiny secret room at Ma Magdalena's. There is also the space "behind the curtain" in The Wizard of Oz.

Gay Themes

Van Heflin's friend is another of the gay characters who run through Mervyn LeRoy's films. He is also an alcoholic, like the hero of The Devil at 4 O'Clock. I have never been a fan of Van Heflin. This is his famous, Oscar winning performance. It is impressive, but not really enjoyable.

Robert Sterling's big offer to Robert Taylor late in the film, also has gay subtexts. It has masochistic sexual undertones. It also shows an admirable aggression. A Bad Boy vs Nice Guy romantic duel will return in Million Dollar Mermaid.

The opening has Robert Taylor working his charm on a uniformed policeman. This shows Taylor's appeal is to men, as well as to women.

Crime Plot

The murder scheme is really sick. It had been anticipated by a prose short story, "The Assistant Murderer" (1926) by Dashiell Hammett, in Hammett's collection Nightmare Town.


Robert Kalloch creates more of his spectacular double-breasted suits for men. His clothes for Cary Grant in His Girl Friday are the archetypal dapper dressy 1940's suits. In Johnny Eager, Barry Nelson's suit and Robert Sterling's double-breasted tuxedo are remarkably glamorous.

Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis (1951) is an epic about the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero in Ancient Rome.


Quo Vadis has major anti-war themes, showing how Roman militarism and conquest should be replaced by Christian love and non-violence. These scenes show that people have to change their thinking, and that this is not going to be easy. The hero, for example, is a glib spokesman for traditional Roman values, which he accepts unquestioningly.

Such later Roman films as Demetrius and the Gladiators (Delmer Daves, 1954) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (Anthony Mann, 1964) will also express non-violent or pacifist themes.

Minorities and Scapegoating

Quo Vadis goes into detail showing the process of how minorities are scapegoated, to deflect criticism away from people in power. Here, the government tells lies about the Christian minority, blaming them for the burning of Rome. The film clearly wants the audience to learn a general lesson, about how such scapegoating is a common way minorities are blamed in the modern world. This is related to LeRoy's lessons of tolerance in The House I Live In, and the consistent concern for minorities that run through his films.

The film emphasizes that St. Paul is a Jew. This is an important reminder.

Roman Glamour

The opening and other scenes show the hero glamorously driving his chariot. This is an example of happy rides in vehicles in LeRoy. He will soon enter the great, and exotic, city of Ancient Rome, the way the heroes entered the Emerald City of Oz. One of LeRoy's huge civic parades soon follows.

The hero and others are in a series of spectacular metal breast-plates, in the Roman style. They are examples of LeRoy's interest in metal clothes. At various times, the hero is in silver, gold, and in a fascinating coppery color armor. Late in the film, wicked Empress Poppea is in a gold dress.

The Burning of Rome

The Burning of Rome is one of the film's major set pieces. It anticipates the erupting volcano in The Devil at 4 O'Clock. In both films, the hero has to lead children and other locals to safety, through a terrifying fiery disaster.

The sequence involve huge bursts of flame, a Mervyn LeRoy image. The hero eventually gets the good idea to go down into the sewers that lie underneath the street. The sewers perhaps reflect the hidden room imagery in LeRoy. They are underneath the street, the way the service bay is underneath the cars in Heat Lightning.

The hero defies many commands, to go aid the ordinary people of Rome. And for much of the rest of the film, he will live among Christians. He is another of LeRoy's upper class characters who run away and live with ordinary people.

Meanwhile, decadent Nero is composing a song, to celebrate his burning of Rome. Nero has elements of an "intellectual musician". It is a very negative portrait of "art music", consistent with the skepticism LeRoy showed towards modern day classical music in Gold Diggers of 1933.

Circular Architecture

The throne room in Nero's palace is a huge circular chamber. Its roundness is emphasized by circular markings on the floor. The room is often shot from overhead angles, that bring out the circular shape of the chamber.

Outside, the square platform for pagan worship is surrounded by circular designs on the ground. It too is often shot from above.


Nero's palace has steps outside. In between sets of steps, the fountain also has water moving down over a staircase-like series of steps.

Strange Lady in Town

Woman Scientists - and Fleeing to a New Life

Strange Lady in Town (1955) is one of Mervyn LeRoy's best dramas. It deals with a woman doctor (Greer Garson), who winds up in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the 19th Century West. The film has a good script, and is vividly acted by a bunch of talented performers. It depicts in a forthrightly feminist way with the issue of women trying to break into professions controlled by men. Greer Garson had previously starred in Mervyn LeRoy's Madame Curie, another feminist film about a woman scientist. So this is a natural progression for their characters.

Like the King and the heiress in other LeRoy films, here Garson is an upper crust Bostonian who has run away from her home, to start a new life among ordinary people. But Garson is not a spoiled rich woman; instead, she is fleeing discrimination against her as a woman doctor. She is hoping to make a fresh start in Santa Fe. She charms everybody, including a troop of cowboys and most of the locals.

Spurs: A Tomboy and Feminist

Spurs is a young woman rancher who befriends the doctor. Spurs wears a man's shirt and trousers, and has never worn a dress. As a sympathetic woman in mannish clothes, she recalls the heroine of Heat Lightning. The heroine of Heat Lightning is competent at "men's work", and Spurs is good at riding and perhaps other ranch work, although this is not shown much. As a dynamic young woman who is trying to grow up, and who is male-oriented in her role, she recalls Jo in Little Women.

However, unlike those characters Spurs does not seem to be a lesbian. Spurs has a hopeless crush on a male Cavalry officer, marking her as straight. And her male clothes and activity seem to be influenced by her rough-and-ready frontier Western environment, rather than being a purely personal choice. Still, Spurs is far away from traditional feminine ideals, and represents non-standard gender possibilities for women.

Spurs disapproves of her brother's male chauvinist view of wives, as women who look after their husbands. Spurs ridicules this. This recalls a bit Jo's skepticism about marriage in Spurs Little Women.

Spurs offers support for the woman doctor. She explicitly explains this support to her brother, by pointing out that both the doctor and she, Spurs, are both women. This has feminist dimensions.

Spurs also resembles the heroine of Calamity Jane (David Butler, 1953). Both are exuberant Western women in male clothes, who have crushes on handsome Cavalry officers. Both eventually get into a dress.

Native Americans

The sympathetic treatment of the Native American characters is also typical of Mervyn LeRoy's regard for minorities.


There is less violence here than in many 1950's Westerns. Its female protagonist also makes this atypical of Western films. There is a bubbling sense of happiness running through many of the scenes.

The time period is too early for automobiles, but the film is full of people riding buggies and horses. These are full of LeRoy's usual joy at such activities. There is a big chase in a buggy.

There is also one of the dance sequences that run through Mervyn LeRoy's films. These tend to involve public dancing by groups of people. They are always happy social events.

Dana Andrews and Civilization

Dana Andrews is an unusually refined leading man for a Western. He specialized in playing successful urban types, such as the news executive he depicted in Fritz Lang's While the City Sleeps (1956), and the psychologist in Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1956). Here he is equally civilized, being both a ranch owner and a doctor. He conveys a sense of advancing civilization in the West, something LeRoy regards as an entirely good thing. So does Garson's doctor.

Andrews is also as well dressed as the typical LeRoy hero, being in a series of sharp suits, and culminating in white tie and tails, like many other LeRoy males.

When we first see Andrews, he is wearing a silver belt. This is an example of LeRoy's interest in metal clothes. It also suggests the expert silver workers of the US Southwest: the film takes place in Santa Fe.

Metaphors of Directing

The priest conducts the church choir.


Mervyn LeRoy has a running interest in coins. The heroine demands payment for her first job, and gets a ten-dollar coin. This is then used in a bit of business, reflecting the skill of Hollywood story tellers using objects.

Camera Movement

The heroine walks from her home to the church. The camera accompanies her with a later track. The pleasant shot shows Old Santa Fe buildings, and is accompanied by sounds of the church choir singing "Ave Maria".


Early one, we see the inside of the heroine's house. It is brilliantly colored. There are orange furniture, red curtains, and we see a red dress and a pink gown.

The heroine wears a striking pale violent gown, in a later scene.

Toward the Unknown

Toward the Unknown (1956) is a drama about test pilots.

Space Travel

Toward the Unknown occasionally mentions, that its experimental air vehicles and techniques might be used for space exploration. This aspect is played up in the film's poster. Toward the Unknown is thus an early look at real-life space exploration. It does not look at the future: it examines real activities of the present day.

Toward the Unknown is one of my favorite titles. We should all be trying to explore the unknown, and discover new things.


Toward the Unknown has semi-documentary features. It was shot on location at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the real-life center of advanced aircraft testing. It gives an in-depth look at government test pilot and experimental aircraft programs.

Many early Semi-documentary films looked at military programs, especially those centering on aviators. These include:

Then these air subjects for semi-documentary films largely became replaced by police forces and crime fighting units, peaking in the later 1940's and early 1950's. Toward the Unknown brings us full circle, back to aviators again.

Key features of the semi-documentary subgenere are present in Toward the Unknown:

Visitors and Guided Tours

Important Visitors from the government fly in, and get a guided inspection tour of the base. This reflects the LeRoy subject of "outsiders who arrive by air in a strange land, and get a tour of its marvels". This subject is appears in The Wizard of Oz and The Devil at 4 O'Clock.


Mervyn LeRoy made many films extolling racial minorities, integration and racial equality. But the real-life test pilot program was strictly reserved for straight white males. So was the soon-to-be-launched astronaut program. Toward the Unknown reflects this reality. It is thus an odd subject for a Mervyn LeRoy film.

While LeRoy made films about a woman scientist in Madame Curie, and a woman doctor in Strange Lady in Town, there are no equivalents in Toward the Unknown. In the world of Toward the Unknown, women are either wives or secretaries.

In real life, actor James Garner is partly of Native American descent. This is not brought out in the film, however. Garner aside, Toward the Unknown is about as racially and sexually segregated a world as one could imagine.

Mental Illness

Toward the Unknown does take a look at one important social minority: the mentally ill. The hero was tortured by the North Koreans, and had a mental breakdown. He is now recovered and trying to rebuild his life and career. Mervyn LeRoy will soon look at a civilian woman trying to rejoin the world after being institutionalized for mental illness, in Home Before Dark.

Sympathetic, realistic looks at mental illness have always been few and far between in films. The Korean War and POWs being tortured opened up a window for the discussion of such topics. They allow the linking of mental illness to a Manly Man like pilot hero William Holden.


The outdoor staircases to the flight tower make a memorable scene. They are painted in two bright colors, making them more conspicuous.


Lloyd Nolan's office is brightly colored. Some bright red and blue are prominent, with the US flag and the blue Air Force flag, as well as furniture and wood that looks reddish. The men are in blue Air Force uniforms. There are also yellow charts.

The test flight scene at the end has orange-and-white checkerboard flags, and Holden's parachute in the same colors. The plane has many bright orange sections. A man wears a red shirt.


In addition to its eye-catching brilliant color, Nolan's office is the seat of "government authority, with flags and officials in sharp dress uniforms". This display of symbolic authority also makes for eye-catching viewing. It anticipates the Governor's office in The Devil at 4 O'Clock, which is organized along similar principles.

General Nolan's aide, a young Lieutenant (L.Q. Jones), has comically exaggerated ideas of discipline. He is presented as that old Hollywood convention, a figure of comedy relief. However, one suspects the film secretly likes him and his saluting and standing at attention. He allows the film to indulge in all sorts of traditional discipline activities, but treat them with a comic touch.

Toward the Unknown is ambiguously posed, between the military (everyone is involved with the Air Force) and activities that might ultimately lead to non-military goals (prototype space flight). Thus it allows features of "militarism", such as fancy uniforms, saluting, and high ranking officers, to be combined with what might well be pacifist goals, such as getting to outer space.

Toward the Unknown thus gives the filmmakers a chance to combine glamorous "militaristic" atmosphere, like fancy uniforms, with non-military activities.


The aviators wear spectacular gray-to-silver flight jackets, and matching pants. These are examples of the metallic clothes in LeRoy films.

The flight crew on the ground are in very clean looking white jumpsuits.

The FBI Story

A Late Semi-Documentary

The FBI Story (1959) tells the story of the FBI, through the life of a "typical" agent (James Stewart). The film recalls the Semi-documentary crime films of the 1940's and 1950's: However, The FBI Story differs greatly from a 1940's semi-doc:

Metaphors of Directing

Some scenes in The FBI Story can be viewed as metaphors for making a movie:

Architecture and Circles

The anti-Communist spy episode towards the end, finds the heroes tracking cars on curving roads in New York City's Central Park. This is perhaps a mild example of the circular architecture in LeRoy's films.

Soon, everyone converges on a Broadway bar, where the windows are conspicuously circular.


The FBI Story occasionally shows bright color:

Sky Imagery: The South America Sequence

LeRoy's films often show sky imagery. This imagery is present in the South American sequence of The FBI Story. It begins with the hero flying by air to a strange land: we get spectacular footage of the hero's plane flying through the mountains around Rio. This footage might well be stock footage. Still, it conveys the favorite LeRoy concept, that the country to which the hero is traveling is full of marvels.

SPOILER. The South American sequence ends with a man plunging off a very high cliff. Such falls from heights are also part of LeRoy's world.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock

The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961) is an early example of the Hollywood "disaster movie". Here, a South Seas island is threatened by a volcano.

The Devil at 4 O'Clock also deals memorably, in attacking discrimination against a minority group.

Several of the characters are people who've abandoned previous lives, to work on the island. One of these might have been rich in the outside world (the doctor). This is a familiar Mervyn LeRoy subject. There are also poor characters who have run away to the island, such as Marguerite - this is less typical.

Links to The Wizard of Oz

The Devil at 4 O'Clock resembles The Wizard of Oz:

A Scientific Film

The Devil at 4 O'Clock is a film deeply oriented towards science: LeRoy had previously made a major film about scientists, Madame Curie.

The film also recalls Strange Lady in Town. Both have doctors setting up clinics in remote areas, in need of medical attention. Both deal sympathetically with persecuted minorities. The two films share a common idealistic, liberal point of view.

A Late Semi-Documentary

The Devil at 4 O'Clock recalls a bit the Semi-documentary crime films made a decade earlier in Hollywood: However, unlike the typical semi-docs, the government workers are not the film's heroes. And The Devil at 4 O'Clock is not really a crime film, although it has both convicts and government officials as characters.

A Gay Character?

Marguerite (the Matron at the clinic) can sure seem like a Lesbian. A big, tough looking woman with interesting tastes in reading material (girlie magazines), Marguerite is not actually labeled "gay". She is a 100% sympathetic character.


Marguerite heaps scorn on men in general as cowards, when the male convicts are scared of a patient. She ridicules men with their muscles - but no bravery.

The volcanic eruption disaster is full of collapsing phallic symbols: a canon, a pointed steeple, a telephone pole. Finally the island's chief high technology device and tallest object collapses: the radio-phone tower. These collapses seem to affect the men: both priests, the island's military Governor, who witnesses the tower collapse.


The Devil at 4 O'Clock occasionally shows isolated objects with bright color: Much of the film is in more neutral colors.