Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 14 September 1900. Education: Educated in Switzerland. Career: Actor/writer in Switzerland, 1918–19; writer for Cinémagazine and La Cinématographie française, Paris, then for Feuillade's Studios, Nice, 1920; gagman, then director of foreign publicity for Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino, Hollywood, 1921–23; assistant director at MGM, 1924–26; left MGM to direct One Hour of Love for Tiffany, 1926; director for Paramount, 1928; returned to Europe, 1929, directed for UFA; returned to Hollywood, 1932; left filmmaking, became TV director, 1950. Awards: French Legion d'Honneur, 1950. Died: 16 May 1979.
Films as Director:
Heureuse Intervention (+ sc); Isidore sur le lac (+ sc); Isidore a la deveine (+ sc)
Valentino en Angleterre (+ sc); 50–50 (+ sc)
One Hour of Love; That Model from Paris (co-d with Gasnier, uncredited, + sc);
The Romantic Age; The Cohens and the Kellys (Beaudine) (2nd unit d); Face Value; Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra (The Life and Death of 9413—A Hollywood Extra) (+ sc); Johann the Coffin Maker (+ sc); The Loves of Zero (+ sc)
The Cocoanuts (+ co-d); The Battle of Paris (The Gay Lady); Eddie Cantor (+ sc); La Route est belle
L'Amour chante (also directed German version: Komm' zu mir zum Rendezvous, and Spanish version: Professor de mi Señora); Anna Christie (Brown) (d New York exteriors, uncredited)
Le Blanc et le noir (co-d); The Murders in the Rue Morgue (+ co-sc); The Man Called Back; Those We Love; A Study in Scarlet (+ sc); The Blue Moon Murder Case; Girl Missing; Ex-lady
The House on 56th Street; Bedside; Registered Nurse; Smarty (Hit Me Again)
Oil for the Lamps of China (LeRoy) (d exteriors); Shanghai Orchid (d exteriors); I Sell Anything; I Am a Thief; The Woman in Red
Go into Your Dance (co-d with Mayo, uncredited); The Florentine Dagger; Going Highbrow; Don't Bet on Blonds; The Payoff; Ship Cafe; The Rose of the Rancho (Gering) (d add'l scenes, uncredited); The Preview Murder Mystery
Till We Meet Again; Hollywood Boulevard (+ co-sc); Outcast
The King of the Gamblers; This Way Please; Mountain Music; Daughter of Shanghai (Daughter of the Orient); Disbarred; King of Alcatraz
Dangerous to Know; Hotel Imperial
The Magnificent Fraud; Parole Fixer; Death of a Champion; Women without Names
Meet Boston Blackie; The Face behind the Mask
Two in a Taxi; Dangerously They Live; Lady Gangster
The Desert Song (+ co-sc)
Bomber's Moon (co-d with Fuhr, uncredited); Roger Touhy, Gangster (The Last Gangster); The Man from Frisco
Escape in the Desert (co-d with Blatt, uncredited); God Is My Co-Pilot
Danger Signal; The Beast with Five Fingers;
Tarzan and the Mermaids
Rogue Regiment (+ sc); Outpost in Morocco
The Crooked Way; Johnny One-Eye
The Vicious Years (The Gangster We Made)
Le Cirque de la mort (Lindt) (role as le detective)
L'Orpheline (serial in twelve episodes) (Feuillade) (asst d, role as an apache); Saturnin (Le Bon Allumeur) (Feuillade) (asst d, role as un gazier); Monte Cristo (Flynn) (historical advisor)
Robin Hood (Dwan) (French sub-titles)
Wine (Gasnier) (asst d)
Parisian Nights (Santell) (asst d, tech advisor); The Exquisite Sinner (von Sternberg) (asst d); Time the Comedian (Leonard) (asst d)
The Masked Bride (von Sternberg) (asst d); La Boheme (King Vidor) (asst d); Escape (Rosen) (asst d); Paris (Shadows of Paris) (Goulding) (asst d, tech advisor); Dance Madness (Leonard) (asst d); Toto (Stahl) (asst d)
The Magic Flame (King) (asst d)
The Woman Disputed (King) (asst d)
Frankenstein (Whale) (sc)
Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin) (co-assoc d)
Adventures of Don Juan (Sherman) (sc under pseudonym Florian Roberts)
By FLOREY: books—
Filmland, Paris, 1923.
Deux ans dans les studios américains, Paris, 1924; revised edition, 1984.
Douglas Fairbanks, sa vie, ses films, ses aventures, Paris, 1926.
Pola Negri, Paris, 1926.
Adolphe Menjou, with André Tinchant, Paris, 1927.
Charlie Chaplin, Paris, 1927.
Ivan Mosjoukine, with Jean Arnoy, Paris, 1927.
Hollywood d'hier et d'aujourd'hui, Paris, 1948.
Monsieur Chaplin, or Le Rire dans la nuit, with Maurice Bessy, Paris, 1952.
La Lanterne magique, Lausanne, 1966.
Hollywood années zéro. La Prehistoire l'invention, les pionniers,naissance des mythes, Paris, 1972.
Hollywood Village: Naissance des studiós de Californie, Paris, 1986.
By FLOREY: articles—
From 1921 to 1926: several hundred articles for Cinémagazine (Paris); numerous articles for Parisian publications, including Pour Vous, Saint Cinéma des Prés, Ciné-Club, Le Technicien duFilm, La Cinématographie Française, and Cinéma
Interview in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1988.
On FLOREY: books—
Bourgoin, Stéphane, Robert Florey, Paris, 1986.
Taves, Brian, Robert Florey: The French Expressionist, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1987.
On FLOREY: articles—
Spears, Jack, "Robert Florey," in Films in Review (New York), April 1960 (collected in his Hollywood: The Golden Era, New York, 1971)
Higham, Charles, "Visitors to Sydney," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1962.
Salmi, M., "Robert Florey," in Film Dope (London), February 1979.
Beylie, Claude, obituary in Ecran (Paris), 15 July 1979.
Luft, Herbert, "Robert Florey," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1979.
Taves, B., "Universal's Horror Tradition," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 68, no. 4, April 1987.
Comuzio, E., "Robert Florey," in Cineforum (Italy), vol. 31, no. 304, May 1991.
* * *
It is not easy to define Robert Florey's status in the history of the American film. As a list of his films quite clearly attests, he was not a major director, but he was certainly an interesting and intriguing one who seemed able to keep abreast with trends and changes in the methodology of filmmaking.
After working on a number of minor silent program features, Florey reached the peak of his artistic filmmaking career in the late 1920s with the production of four experimental shorts—The Life and Death of 9413—A Hollywood Extra, The Loves of Zero, Johann the Coffin Maker, and Skyscraper Symphony—that showed a skillful understanding of editing and the influence of German expressionist cinema. The best known of these shorts is A Hollywood Extra, which no longer appears to survive in its entirety, but which nonetheless illustrates Florey's grasp of montage and satire. Florey never again returned to this form of filmmaking, but thanks to these shorts he was invited to direct a number of early talkies at Paramount. Aside from Cocoanuts, which is more Marx Brothers than Florey, these Paramount features—notably The Battle of Paris—again demonstrate that the director was not only totally cognizant of developments in the sound film but also was able to bring ingenuity and fluidity to the medium.
A crucial point in Florey's career came in 1931 when he was asked to script and direct Frankenstein. Although some elements of the Florey screenplay are utilized, his script was basically scrapped and he was replaced as director by James Whale. Had Florey been allowed to keep the assignment, he would doubtless have become a major Hollywood director. Instead he was assigned Murders in the Rue Morgue, which, while it contains some nice atmospheric lighting effects as well as moments of surprising brutality, never achieved the cult popularity of Frankenstein. For the next twenty years Robert Florey toiled away as a reliable contract director, churning out pleasant and diverting entertainments. Even when he worked as co-director with Chaplin on Monsieur Verdoux, Florey saw his more daring directing ideas rejected by the comedian in favor of a static filmmaking style which Chaplin favored. Florey moved exclusively into television direction in 1950, and seemed very much at ease working on programs such as The Loretta Young Show, whose star and content suited his own conservative temperament.
Aside from his work as a director, Robert Florey deserves recognition as a commentator on and witness to the Hollywood scene. He loved cinema from his first involvement in his native France as an assistant to Louis Feuillade. That love led to his arrival in Hollywood in the early 1920s as a correspondent for a French film magazine. He eventually wrote eight books on the history of the cinema, all of which are exemplary works of scholarship.