The setting is France in the time before World War I. Zaza is an extremely popular music hall entertainer in the town of St. Esmé, a few miles outside Paris. As a result of sabotage by her jealous rival Florianne, Zaza is severely injured during a performance. She is cared for by diplomat Bernard Dufresne, whom she doesn't realize is married. As it happens, he also tends to forget that inconvenient fact when he's around her.
This film has the examples of:
- Behind Every Great Man: Dufresne's ambitious wife urges him on in his career.
- Bowdlerise: In the original play, Zaza was a prostitute before becoming a music hall entertainer. For this film, her humble origins were changed to "a singing gamine of the streets."
- Cat Fight: Zaza and Florianne get into a couple Dynasty-worthy cat fights.
- The Edwardian Era: The majority of the film is set before World War I, not that you'd know it from the flapperish costumes worn by Zaza and Florianne.
- Improvised Clothes: Florianne loses her dress in the second cat fight, and has to go home wearing a tablecloth.
- Lady Drunk: As a Title Card informs us, "Aunt Rosa had once taken Zaza under her wing - and had been drinking on her ever since." And don't forget this was all filmed during Prohibition!
- Maybe Ever After: In the epilogue, it's revealed that Dufresne's wife has died. Zaza and Dufresne can now hook up without guilt, but we don't find out if they actually do.
- The Mistress: Zaza doesn't realize that she's one as Dufresne didn't tell her that he's married. When she first hears about him being with another woman, she assumes that the other woman is the mistress.
- Operation: Jealousy: Florianne tells Dufresne that Zaza only flirts with him "to make the old Duke jealous!" In fact, it's Dufresne whom Zaza has a crush on. Later on, she actually does use this trope — but she's flirting with the Duke to make Dufresne jealous.
- Playing Sick: After getting better, Zaza pretends she's still injured to prevent Dufresne from leaving her.
- Shipper on Deck: Aunt Rosa ships Zaza/Duke. After all, the Duke owns so much wine! (She really does cite this as a reason, by the way.)
- Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Zaza's act seems to involve her doing this on a stage. (She's meant to be a singer, apparently, but that's hard to dramatize in a silent film.)