The Devil Doll (1936)

(Image: xyface.com)
(Image: xyface.com)

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) is a wrongly convicted man who has been serving time at Devil’s Island. He manages to escape, with mad scientist Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) in tow.

Marcel has created a special potion that reduces people to 1/6th of the size of an average human. Marcel’s plan was to use this formula for good, shrinking everyone so Earth’s non-renewable resources will last longer.

But when Marcel dies soon after the escape, Paul decides to use that formula for an entirely different purpose. He wants to use it to exact revenge on everyone who was involved in framing him and having him sent away to Devil’s Island. With the help of Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), Marcel’s widow, he just may be able to successfully carry out these evil plans.

The Devil Doll was directed by Tod Browning (Freaks) and released in 1936. It is based on the novel Burn Witch Burn! by Abraham Merritt. Robert Osborne points out in the introduction for this film that it was an odd picture for MGM to make at the time, since they were known for churning out very glamorous pictures. It is the penultimate directorial effort of Tod Browning.

The Devil Doll turned out to be in no way what I expected. I was anticipating a full-blown piece of corn, and there is some corn here, but not nearly as much as I expected there to be.

The effects are ten kinds of awesome but can be borderline-hilarious, especially in the first scene with the miniature dogs, in which they appear to be glowing.

(Image: misfittoys.tumblr)
(Image: misfittoys.tumblr)

Rafaela Ottiano gives an amazing performance, brilliantly exaggerating her character’s nuttiest aspects. Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan are, of course, also amazing, but Ottiano steals all of her scenes.

I watch a lot of odd movies, but there are few things I’ve seen that are as memorable as Lionel Barrymore in drag, turning humans into dolls. His faux-“lady” voice is particularly hilarious.

There is some true suspense to be had in The Devil Doll, and all of the action leads up to a surprisingly sentimental ending.

I’m disappointed that this couldn’t be an Attack of the Puppet People-level entry into the Classics of the Corn series, but it’s still a very fun watch, worth tuning in for if for no other reason that to observe it’s odd mix of corn, fright and sappiness. Only Tod Browning could churn out a film this perplexing. The score: 4/5

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