The Devil-Doll (1936)

 

Director:

Tod Browning

Cinematography by

Leonard Smith

An escaped Devil’s Island convict uses miniaturized humans to wreak vengeance on those that framed him.

Excellent Performances In Old Shocker

10/10
Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
3 August 2003

Disguised as an old woman, an escaped convict uses the creations of a pair of mad scientists to further his schemes of personal revenge.

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Director Tod Browning, master of the macabre, had another winner with this little horror/science fiction film. Its glossy production values, courtesy of MGM, do not get in the way of the director’s pacing or the heightening of suspense. The actual story itself – with tiny, shrunken people being used to carry out dastardly deeds in Paris – is quite absurd, but the cast is so good and the direction so able that the viewer can simply sit back and enjoy the results.

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Lionel Barrymore, one of America’s greatest character actors, has a field day in the lead role and is actually quite compelling dressed as an elderly lady, hobbling about like an authentic beldame. It would not be long before he would be confined to a wheelchair by crippling arthritis, but with his excellent voice and piercing eyes Barrymore would scarcely be handicapped as an actor. Here he is a positive menace, cooing & consoling his intended victims before sending the devil-dolls – controlled by his mind – to finish the job of retribution.

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Fragile & ailing, Silent Film star Henry B. Walthall would be dead before THE DEVIL-DOLL could be released. Nonetheless, he still manages to give a powerful performance as a deranged scientist who has discovered how to reduce living things to one sixth their original size. Walthall’s desperate eagerness over his researches replicates the dying actor’s desperation to communicate with his audience. Equally formidable is Italian actress Rafaela Ottiano as Walthall’s widow, feverishly continuing her husband’s weird experiments. Her insane eyes and sinister mien, making her resemble Frankenstein’s Bride, give the film some of its spookiest moments.

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Rotund Robert Greig appears as one of Barrymore’s victims; gentle Lucy Beaumont plays Barrymore’s mother. Maureen O’Sullivan & Frank Lawton, reunited once again after DAVID COPPERFIELD (1935), nicely fill the requisite roles of the young lovers.

Movie mavens will recognize Eily Malyon as a mean-tempered laundress & Billy Gilbert as a butler, both uncredited.

Erich von Stroheim, brilliant & obsessive, was one of the screenwriters on this project. The special effects in the scenes involving the tiny people are quite well managed.

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Send In the Elves

9/10
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
6 December 2002

Director Tod Browning just wasn’t drawn to normal people. His movies are often set in circuses and carnivals, or else involve criminals who take on weird or grotesque disguises. Deception of one kind or another is a common theme in his films. Some find his movies to be profound commentaries on the human condition; others see them as just weird. I see Browning as a unique film artist. As to the extent of his genius, it’s hard for me to gauge. There’s no one else quite like him. Whenever I’m watching a Browning picture I’m inevitably more thrilled by the ideas behind it than I am by the film itself. The Devil Doll concerns a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit who is sent to Devil’s Island, where he learns the black art of shrinking people to the size of mice from an inventor. He escapes from the island and returns to Paris, where he proceeds to extract his revenge on those who sent him away.

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There’s a lot of plot in this one, far more than I just outlined, and the movie has on occasion a Victorian-Dickensian feeling, aided in no small measure by the casting of Maureen O’Sullivan and Frank Lawton, who had just appeared in the movie of David Copperfield, as the romantic leads. Lionel Barrymore is the star, and still quite capable of getting around, and delivers a fine performance, alternately sympathetic and diabolical. This is not a fast-paced or exciting movie by today’s standards, but it has its virtues, most of them pictorial. The special effects are superb, and the elf-people uncannily persuasive.

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Goofy but good Tod Browning horror flick

7/10
Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN
29 October 2001

Lionel Barrymore is great in this film as an escaped convict out for revenge against the three bankers who framed him for embezzlement and murder seventeen years before. He and another fellow, a scientist, escape from Devil’s Island together and arrive at the scientist’s house, where his wife carries on his twisted experiments: shrinking living beings. His goal is to shrink all creatures on Earth, to make food production easier, but the shrunken things’ brains don’t function properly. You can control them telepathically, for some strange reason, but they can’t think for themselves. When the scientist dies, Barrymore devises to use these dolls to get revenge on his enemies.

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There are a lot of relatively good special effects in the film, and, like I said, Lionel Barrymore is fantastic. There is a nice emotional center of the film – Barrymore’s daughter has suffered a lot from her father’s crimes, and she hates him. Barrymore’s sole purpose in getting revenge (and getting his enemies to confess their crimes) is to free his daughter from the shame in which she has always lived because of him. I actually wish that there was at least one more sequence concerning the daughter (there are three in the present film). The final scene is quite touching. 7/10.

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