An important influence on Universal's first horror cycle, Robert Florey was one of the scriptwriters who worked on James Whale's Frankenstein (1931). Born in Paris in 1900, Florey lived for a time at the back of Georges Melies theatre, which provided him with the opportunity to observe the famous film poineer at work. Florey was obsessed with the cinema from an early age, and at seventeen began writing film reviews for a Geneva newspaper. Then he worked in the Swiss film industry as an assistant director, writer and actor.
Florey went to the US just before his twenty-first birthday on a writing assignment for the French magazine Cinemagazine. He arrived in Hollywood unable to speak English but was immediately hired as a technical adviser by a studio shooting a French costume melodrama. Within a short time he had become a gag writer and the following year was made director of foreign publicity for Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Then he became an assistant director. He was given his first opportunity to direct when the director of That Model from Paris (1926) fell ill. That same year he directed his first complete feature film, One Night of Love. At the same time he began to make experimental fantasy films that were heavily influenced by the German films of the period.
After that he moved on to directing talkies and directed the Marx Brothers' first film Cocoanuts (1929). In 1931 he worked on the screenplay for Frankenstein and planned to direct it himself, but his two test reels, with Bela Lugosi as the Monster, were rejected and the assignemnt went to James Whale. Florey later regarded Whale's film as a travesty of his original conception. Florey's contributions to the film include the old mill setting and the mix-up of brains by Frankenstein's assistant (a rather pointless plot device as all the Monster's subsequent actions stemmed from his fear and confusion--not from any basically evil streak).
There is a growing opinion that Florey's version would have been superior to Whale's but there really isn't much evidence to support this. Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), which he was given to direct as consolation for missing out on Frankenstein, is an efficient, sometimes impressive, horror film (he shot it in only three days) but it lacks all those fine, audacious touches that make Whale's horror films so memorable. Florey went on to direct films for Warner Brothers and then Paramount, but the only other horror films he directed were The Face Behind the Mask in 1941, a rarely seen film that starred Peter Lorre, and the interesting The Beast with Five Fingers in 1947 that also starred Peter Lorre (Florey claimed that the film was savagely cut by Jack Warner).
Florey was one of the first Hollywood directors to appreciate the potential of television and later enjoyed a successful career working in that medium. His work in TV included two episodes of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, "Perchance to Dream" (1959) and "The Fever" (1960), and episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961), The Outer Limits (1964), and an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller in 1962 titled "The Incredible Doktor Markesan."
--JOHN BROSNAN, from
The Horror People.
A selection of Robert Florey films.
Find Robert Florey on eBay.com
A selection of Robert Florey in books.
A History of Horror
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