I used to think it was pretty neat that HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, my favourite movie, and the first MGM release, actually features a prominently placed lion in its action. Leo plays a crucial role in the plot, so it seemed just super that he also turns up in the MGM logo, proclaiming Ars Gratia Artis in lionese.

But now I’ve finally seen a Samuel Goldwyn production (SOULS FOR SALE) from before he got into bed, however briefly, with Mr. Mayer and Mr. Metro (what a funny name to have!), and I see that Leo is already very much part of the picture. Although he hasn’t yet perfected his roar, he just blinks very slowly and sadly at us, and attempts a sort of Cliff Richard sneer.

Actually, I’m not absolutely positive it’s the same lion.

Some dissertation could probably be written on Leo’s various incarnations. In the Technicolor days he lets rip with a massive snarl right off the bat, whereas in the silents, apart from being inaudible, he tends to sit there like a lemon for a quite a bit before giving vent. A sign of the faster pace of later movies, or a consequence of the demands of sound? Michel Chion should get to work on this.

22 Responses to “Leo”

  1. Christopher Says:

    I seen im’..the lazy galoot!..I guess it was at the end of The Penalty..I re-watched the other night..had the fight knocked out of him

  2. Here is a great combination of Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter and some lovely clips of Pre-Code Hollywood films. Full marks to anyone who know the names of all the films from which the clips are taken.
    By the way, I learnt recently that the MGM lion lived in Dublin. Dublin zoo.

  3. The Penalty is MGM, I think, so yes, that’d have the silent era Leo. This previous Leo is the sleepiest of the lot. He just looks pissed off.

  4. I like Leo best in the opening of the MGM Musicals, guttural and terrifying. I even like him in B+W(say Vidor’s ‘”Hallelujah” which has a silent roar)

  5. Hey peter…long time no see

  6. Christopher Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Leo in the top picture before.He looks like …n’aaaaright! RAWR!..there!..you happy now?

  7. “Ars gratia… who wrote this crap?”

    I know MOST of those pre-codes, but certainly not all.

  8. Hi Arthur, absence and divagation due in part to family illness.

    Anyone who is unsure as to the titles of any of those pre-code clips I can supply the answers.

  9. I think the worst MGM lion is the profile that looks chiseled in stone which graces a lot of MGM production in the late ’30s-early ’40s. Whose silly idea was that? Really, a lion that isn’t even alive. I was surprised the first time I saw the Goldwyn Leo, but I’ve seen him twice, so I guess the whole idea was something Metro picked up when they got Goldwyn.

    I’m pretty sure I know practically all the film clips used. Whoever did it gave it a great tagline, too.

  10. The first of the MGM lions was indeed born in Dublin zoo, but made his way to the US at some point; I’m pretty sure his logo scenes were filmed after his emigration (a great Irish tradition).

    We used to go on “school tours” to the zoo and the keepers would never fail to mention that the famous movie lion was born in their zoo, although they did not clarify that there were something like five lions over the years, only one of whom could trace his ancestry to Dublin.

  11. I love the idea of an Irish lion. He personifies (or lionizes) the whole Hollywood emigrant tradition. But if the first MGM lion was from Dublin, the first Goldwyn lion probably wasn’t, because he looks different.

    I think the bass-relief Leo looks very grand, but his lack of movement and roar sucks the excitement out of the moment–which seems like a very MGM move: those “quality” or “prestige” films tended to behave as if everyone was carved out of stone.

  12. I admit that my lion-knowledge does not stretch to knowing whether it was the first MGM lion or the first Goldwyn lion that was born in Dublin, though I think the lion was born around 1920. I’m sure some obsessive somewhere has documented this on the web: if not, they should have!

  13. The one pictured could be Irish. He looks a little like Jack from Father Ted. “Arse! Gratia! Arse!”

  14. The bas-relief lion seemed like, “We don’t need that silly roaring lion and that inconvenient motto anymore. We have our name and logo, which symbolizes, uh quality”. I notice many of these films have a roaring Leo tacked onto the head, although many do not. I can’t figure if that’s indecision or regret. Of course today’s Leo sounds nothing like a lion at all, just a sound effect.

  15. I was trying to figure out the resemblance; now you say it, he does look like he’s listing rather severely. The zoo probably got rid of him as he wasn’t appropriate around the wee ones.

  16. Who remembers the Mary Tyler Moore Show? She was also the producer, and at the end, after the closing credits, was a snippet showing the MTM logo, with a kitten’s head meowing. Pretty cute.

  17. There have been many, but my favorite MGM logo parodies are on the two versions of Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS.

    Our Trailer department in the Yoram-Globus Cannon Films company came up with this logo for our jackets, a take-off on the MGM logo. Assuming we got our Latin correct, I’ve always thought it a more accurate motto for our racket industry.

  18. Well, the link worked at my end in a test … milli regreti.

  19. I’m partial to Jackie the Lion in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock

  20. Just looking at some Tashlin. At the start of The Glass Bottom Boat, Leo roars once, and when he opens his maw a second time a foghorn sound emits. This is topped by Brewster McCloud, when he opens up and we hear Rene Auberjonois say “I forgot what I was going to say…”

    Jackie the Lion nearly took Harold Lloyd’s other hand off, after Lloyd gesticulated too freely and inadvertently tickled his co-star’s ear.

  21. Christopher Says:

    ..lol..the Father Ted reference…the Leo at top does look like..”FECK OFF!”
    Several times I’ve jumped out of my seat to the lion roar on the MGM dvds when I ‘ve accidently bumped the volume up too high…
    the lion on the ledge sequence from Sin of Harold Dibblebock was my introduction to Lloyd..man was that funny!

  22. I always resented the rear projection in that scene. It’s a letdown after Lloyd’s glory days. But I like how he gets post-traumatic stress and wakes up screaming later. Psychological realism + slapstick!

    When I first plugged our DVD player into the stereo our cat Trilby (seen in my avatar) suddenly got very interested in MGM’s Leo. That and the bassline of Queen’s Flash Gordon score fascinated her.

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