Robert Florey (14 September 1900, Paris - 16 May 1979, Santa Monica, California) was a French-American director, screenwriter, film journalist and occasional actor. Born in Paris, and at first a film journalist, Florey moved to the United States in September 1921. As a director Florey's most productive decades were the 1930s and 1940s, working on relatively low-budget programmers for Paramount and Warner Brothers. His reputation is balanced between his avant-garde expressionist style, most evident in his early career, and his work as a fast, reliable studio-system director called on to finished troubled projects, such as 1939's Hotel Imperial.
He directed more than 50 movies. His most popular film is likely the first Marx Brothers feature The Cocoanuts of 1929, and his 1932 foray into Universal-style horror, Murders in the Rue Morgue is regarded by horror fans as highly reflective of German expressionism. In 2006, as his 1937 film Daughter of Shanghai was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, Florey was called "widely acclaimed as the best director working in major studio B-films."
Life and work
Florey grew up in Paris near the studio of George Melies, and as a young man served as assistant to Louis Feuillade. In the 1920s he worked as a journalist, in Hollywood as assistant director to Josef von Sternberg, and shooting newsreel footage in New York, before making his feature directing debut in 1926.
In the late 1920s he produced two experimental (and very inexpensive) short films: The Life and Death of 9413--a Hollywood Extra (1928) co-directed with Slavko Vorkapich, and Skyscraper Symphony the following year.
Florey made a significant but uncredited contribution to the script of the 1931 version of Frankenstein. With the support of Universal's story editor Richard Schayer, with whom he developed the treatment, Florey campaigned to be given the job of directing Frankenstein, and filmed a screen test with Bela Lugosi playing the monster. But Universal Pictures assigned he and Lugosi to Murders in the Rue Morgue instead. Florey, with the help of cinematographer Karl Freund and elaborate sets representing 19th century Paris, made Murders into an American version of German expressionist films such as Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
By the mid-1930s Florey settled into the studio system and produced vehicles for Warren William, Guy Kibbee, and Akim Tamiroff (briefly promoted as a lead actor). For some film historians, Florey's finest work is in these modest low-budget programmers and B movies. Florey hit a peak at Paramount in the late 30s with Hollywood Boulevard (1936), King of Gamblers (1937), and Dangerous to Know (1938), all marked by fast pace, cynical tone, Dutch angles, and dramatic lighting.
He was also assistant director to Charlie Chaplin on Chaplin's film Monsieur Verdoux (1947).
In 1953 Florey was one of the first seasoned feature directors to turn to television, and he did not turn back. He worked in the new medium for over a decade and produced shows for The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Twilight Zone. He also wrote a number of books, including Pola Negri (1927) and Charlie Chaplin (1927), Hollywood d'hier et d'aujord'hui (1948), La Lanterne magique (1966), and Hollywood annee zero (1972).
In 1950, Florey was made a knight in the French Légion d'honneur. His 1937 thriller, Daughter of Shanghai (1937), starring Anna May Wong, was added to the National Film Registry in 2006.
Robert Florey is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery Hollywood Hills with his wife Virginia.
That Model from Paris, 1926 (uncredited)
One Hour of Love, 1927
The Romantic Age, 1927
Face Value, 1927
The Hole in the Wall, 1929
The Cocoanuts, 1929
The Battle of Paris, 1929
The Road Is Fine (La Route est belle), 1930
Love Songs (L'Amour chante), 1930
El Profesor de mi Señora, 1930
Komm zu Mir Zum Rendez-vous, 1930
Black and White (Le Blanc et la noir) (co-director), 1931
Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932
The Man Called Back, 1932
Those We Love, 1932
Girl Missing, 1933
The House on 56th Street, 1933
Registered Nurse, 1934
I Sell Anything, 1934
I Am a Thief, 1934
The Woman in Red, 1935
The Florentine Dagger, 1935
Go Into Your Dance (uncredited), 1935
Going Highbrow, 1935
Don't Bet on Blondes, 1935
Ship Cafe, 1935
The Payoff, 1935
The Preview Murder Mystery, 1936
Till We Meet Again, 1936
Hollywood Boulevard, 1936
King of Gamblers, 1937
Mountain Music, 1937
This Way Please, 1937
Daughter of Shanghai, 1937
Dangerous to Know, 1938
King of Alcatraz, 1938
Hotel Imperial, 1939
The Magnificent Fraud, 1939
Death of a Champion, 1939
Parole Fixer, 1940
Women Without Names, 1940
The Face Behind the Mask, 1941
Meet Boston Blackie, 1941
Two in a Taxi, 1941
Dangerously They Live, 1941
Lady Gangster (billed as Florian Roberts), 1941
Bomber's Moon (second-unit director), 1943
The Desert Song, 1943
Roger Touhy, Gangster, 1944
Man from Frisco, 1944
God Is My Co-Pilot, 1945
Danger Signal, 1945
San Antonio, 1945
The Beast with Five Fingers, 1946
Tarzan and the Mermaids, 1948
Rogues' Regiment, 1948
Outpost in Morocco, 1949
The Crooked Way, 1949
The Vicious Years, 1950
Johnny One-Eye, 1950
Adventures of Captain Fabian (uncredited), 1951
Hello New York! (aka Bonjour New York) (short), 1928
The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra (short), 1928
Skyscraper Symphony (short), 1929
Fifty-Fifty (short), 1932
"The Incredible Dr. Markesan" Thriller Series, costars Boris Karloff, 1962
Taves, Brian (1986). Robert Florey, The French Expressionist. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-1929-0.
1.^ Librarian of Congress Adds Home Movie, Silent Films and Hollywood Classics to Film Preservation List
2.^ Lovers of cinema: the first American film avant-garde, 1919-1945, by Jan-Christopher Horak, page 95