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Excellent Performances In Old Shocker
Ron Oliver3 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Goofy but good Tod Browning horror flick
zetes29 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.

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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A really cool horror picture that is also a very unusual departure for Barrymore!
MartinHafer9 June 2005
I really enjoyed this little horror flick. It was the story of an escaped prisoner and his efforts to exact revenge using his evil little zombie dolls. It was well-written and exciting to watch.

However, what really made the film for me was watching Lionel Barrymore. He was an immensely talented actor that starred in countless movies from the 1920s to about 1950 and I would have to say that this was definitely the weirdest departure he ever took on the screen! Not only was he an escaped con trying to exact revenge, but much of the movie he disguised himself as an old lady! Seeing him in drag (and doing a credible job) gave a me a real laugh and it was nice to see him increase his range. FYI--in drag, he DID look and sound a little bit like his famous sister, Ethel!
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This is how you adapt an existing story!
cvincent113 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is the film that modern film-makers should watch when contemplating the adaptation of a famous novel. By now, we're used to the convention of prefixing a film with the novel's author's name ("Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo) which serves as a dire warning that the story will bear no resemblance at all to the original.

As Kurosawa would later demonstrate in "The Bad Sleep Well," if you're not going to film the novel as is, don't do it halfway-- make something new from the story. That's what we have here, with an excellent version of Dumas' Monte Cristo.

An escaped prisoner, the falsely convicted Paul Lavond, wreaks his terrible revenge on those who conspired against him, unites two young lovers, bids his lost love goodbye, all with the aid of amazing secret science.

While Edmond Dantes became a master of alchemy and poisons, Lavond masters an alchemy of a different sort, removing and reducing one enemy after another. Lavond needs no Abbe' to lead him to a source of infinite wealth-- Lavond uses his enemies' own money, which they had embezzled from him and his bank, to destroy them.

And just as Dantes was a master of disguise, playing a variety of roles while being drawn irresistibly toward those he once loved, so Lavond puts on an amazing disguise to bring love and reconciliation to his loved ones, and a terrible revenge to those who destroyed his life.

O'Sullivan is delightful as always, by turns darling, petulant, defiant, and vulnerable; her final reunion, however brief, with her lost, still unrecognized, father is a wonderful climax to this film.

A wonderful story, beautifully told. The effects, delightful though they are, are the least amazing thing in this film. Browning deserves remembrance and homage for reminding us that films need a strong story _first_, and such effects as are convenient may come later, if at all.
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An excellent tale of murder and vengeance
jluis198423 March 2007
While he is famous for being the mind behind Universal's 1931 horror classic, "Dracula", director Tod Browning is also often labeled as another of the director who struggled the most when the invention of movies with sound arrived to cinema, smashing the careers of many professionals of the silent medium. One of the best American directors of silents, Browning did struggle with "talkies", but thanks to the enormous success of "Dracula", found himself in a very good position. Sadly, "Freaks", his next film, became so controversial that he lost the favor of the audience and the studios, who were not ready to the tale of the love between a midget and a "normal" woman. While he managed to recover from this, he never had again the commercial success of "Dracula"; a real shame, because in 1936 he directed the film that finally proved that he had understood the benefits of the new sound era: "The Devil-Doll".

In this film, Lionel Barrymore plays Paul Lavond, a former banker who was wrongfully accused of fraud and sent to prison for 17 years. In prison he meets another convict named Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), an odd scientist who becomes his friend and plan their escape together. After escaping, they hide in Marcel's house, where Lavond discovers that Marcel and his wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) invented a way to minimize objects, in an attempt to reduce people in order to save space and food. Sadly, the process damages the brains of living beings, reducing them to puppets who can be easily controlled with the mind. Lavond is at first horrified by this insanity, but after the sudden death of Marcel, he decides to help Malita if she agrees to help him in his revenge. Now, disguised as an innocent old lady, Lavond returns to Paris with his devilish living dolls, decided to make those who send him to prison pay for every year he spent without his family.

The story was written by Browning himself, giving his very own spin to the plot of Abraham Merritt's novel "Burn Witch Burn"; however, the screenplay was done by Guy Endore, Garrett Fort and Erich Von Stroheim, so actually very few remains from Merritt's novel in the movie, and it's truly more a Browning film. As usual in his stories, Browning focuses on the misadventures of an outcast, in this case Paul Lavond, who while being the hero of the story, has to resort to brutal crimes to achieve his vengeance, almost like a horror retelling of "The Count of Montecristo". The story unfolds nicely, and despite being more than 70 years old, it still feels fresh and original. This is definitely because the characters of the film are so very well developed that truly feel and act like real complex persons despite the fantasy elements of the story.

Now, the true surprise of the film is definitely Tod Browning's effective direction of the whole thing. While he is revered for his work in "Dracula" and "Freaks", most critics and fans tend to agree that his best work happened in the silent era, as those films (as well as "Mark of the Vampire") have their best scenes in the silent parts. Well, this movie proves that idea wrong, as not only "The Devil-Doll" is heavily based on dialog, it is remarkably well-executed and is definitely on par with most of Browning's best silent films. As usual, Browning mixes horror and black comedy in a delightful subtle way, even referencing his own classic "The Unholy Three" in occasions. Finally, it must also be pointed out that in this film Browning crafts truly impressive scenes with special effects that still look awe inspiring even today.

Of course, not everything is about Browning, as certainly without his superb cast the final result would be very different. Lionel Barrymore is simply amazing as Paul Levond, portraying the tragic figure of the good man consumed by hate, forced to commit crimes to clean his name. Barrymore was a master of his craft, and he proves it in the scenes where he must disguise himself as an old lady. Maureen O'Sullivan and Frank Lawton, fresh from Cukor's version of "David Copperfield", are reunited again, playing Lavond's daughter and the man in love with her. The two of them are very natural, but is O'Sullivan's talent the one that shines the most. Italian actress Rafaela Ottiano gives a very good and scary performance, although the fact that Barrymore's character is the focus of the film limits her screen time quite a lot. Overall the cast is pretty effective, and one of the main reasons of the movie's high quality.

It's a shame that Browning's career was considered beyond redemption after the huge commercial failure of the misunderstood "Freaks", as this movie proves that there was still a lot in Browning to give after mastering the craft of making "talkies". While it's hard to deny the importance and value of both "Dracula" and "Freaks", it is only in this movie where Browning shows a true understanding of the new technology, as while the movie is still very visual, it's at its core a very dialog oriented film, and Browning demonstrates he can handle it. While the story has that feeling of being taken straight from a pulp novel, it's very emotional and dramatic (without being overtly sappy), and it could be said that it's in this movie where Browning finally combines the best of both worlds.

Like most people, I too used to believe that Browning's best days happened along Lon Chaney during the years of the silent era, however, "The Devil-Doll" is a film that has made me reconsider that thought as this movie has everything that made Browning great in the silents, as well as his full domination of the new technology. While definitely nowhere near "Dracula" or "Freaks", this is a "talkie" that shows him at his best. 8/10
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Browning's second to last film is very entertaining
rosscinema30 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The career of Tod Browning was too short and he only made one more film after this and it's a terrific showcase for Lionel Barrymore. This story is about two escapee's from Devils Island and Barrymore is Paul Lavond and he was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison after being set-up by his business partners. He follows his friend Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) to where his wife is living and after eluding the police and their dogs they finally arrive. Marcel's wife is Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) and she has been continuing the scientific experiments that they both have started years before. Paul learns that they have figured out a way to shrink animals and people to the size of dolls and can make them move and do things with will power. But one night Marcel dies of a heart attack and Malita persuades Paul to help her with her experiments. Paul agrees and see's this as a chance to get revenge on those responsible for his incarceration. They travel to Paris, France but they have to be careful because the police expect Paul to show up. Paul dresses up as an old woman and calls himself Madame Mandelip and he opens a small toy shop with Malita. Paul is able to see his mother while in disguise but he has a daughter who doesn't recognize him. Maureen O'Sullivan is Lorraine and she hates her father but doesn't realize that he's really innocent.


This is certainly not on the same level as "Dracula" but it's still a very entertaining film and Lionel Barrymore is a joy to watch. Tod Browning always had a good eye for talent and Barrymore was a star on Broadway and more than able to tackle this role. I have to admit that when he's dressed in drag he's fairly convincing but his old lady voice becomes a little tiresome. Barrymore was much more versatile than a lot of the roles he had to play on film. I'm sure his best performances were in the theater and he was just a natural as an actor. O'Sullivan is not in this film enough and she really has only one good scene and it's where she lets out her rage when talking about her father. The big gripe I had with this film is that its suppose to be in Paris. It's obviously not and everyone speaks English, "Lets go to the Eiffel Tower". The film ends with a much more upbeat note than what we would expect considering what Barrymore does to exact revenge. A lot of films would have had the protagonist meet some sort of fate but Browning doesn't seem interested in that. Browning wrote this script with Erich von Stroheim and there is some good tension built up in certain scenes and one that stands out is where one of the businessmen stares at the clock and when he's about to meet his fate he stands up and confesses his guilt. Ottiano visibly resembles the Bride of Frankenstein with the streak in her hair and she spends most of her performance looking wide eyed and wearing pancake makeup. She's a lot of fun to watch in this film and the strength of her persona is very evident as you watch this. Not exactly a great film but one that does offer a very good performance by Barrymore.
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Great suspense, drama, efx, and acting by Lionel Barrymore!
drseim7 August 2000
Don't let the genre classification as "sci/fi & horror" mislead you. It's really an excellent suspense/mystery/melodrama with the superb Lionel Barrymore (Mr Potter of "It's a Wonderful Life") and a young Maureen O'Sullivan. The sci/fi & fantasy elements - a mad scientist's ability to shrink people and control their actions - are exciting plot devices that allows Barrymore to exact revenge on the men who destroyed his life and family.

Director Tod Browning ("Freaks", the original "Dracula", and many Lon Chaney films) has created a great mix of suspense, action, light humor, & heart-tugging emotions in this tale of revenge and redemption.

The efx are (mostly) ahead of their time, and as good as the later shrunken-people sci-fi movies of the 40s and 50s, such as "Dr Cyclops", "Attack of the Puppet People", and "The Incredible Shrinking Man".

But the best part is the great acting of Barrymore. He plays a desperate escaped convict, who hides by masquerading as a kindly old woman, who in turn pretends to be maker of perfectly detailed dolls. As this character that's both humorous and murderous, obsessed and befuddled, he toys with the police and his betrayers who will be the targets of his army of living dolls. It's a tour de force of acting in this beautiful film.
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Send In the Elves
telegonus6 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.

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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Tod Browning does it again!
revere-79 September 2007
To the masses, Tod Browning is mostly unknown. Those who do know his name mostly remember him as the director of the original 'Dracula'. Fans of the genre remember him as the director not only of that movie, but of 'Freaks' as well.

But there is a great slightly campy classic that he directed near the end of his career, The Devil Doll.

While it never hits the highs of those earlier films, it is certainly worth a watch. The story concerns Paul Lavond (played by the always awesome Lionel Barrymore) - an escaped prisoner who learns a way to shrink humans to 1/6th their size, and rob them of their free will. He uses this secret to enact revenge on the men who framed him and sent him to prison.

Like his other films, this Tod Browning film also started a bit of a subgenre in the horror field - no, I'm not talking about creepy dolls (though a case could perhaps be made for that), I'm talking about the wronged individual that seeks redress in a vengeful manner (sure, earlier films danced around the concept - notably 'The Phantom of the Opera' - but here it is so straightforward. Lavond openly admits that he is full of "hatred", "vengeance" and even "evil". That is very refreshing, even in a film that's over 70 years old! Lavond realizes that he will ultimately pay a heavy price for his actions, but never wavers in his conviction to see his plans fully realized. Many great films in the genre followed this formula later on, notably 'The Abominable Dr. Phibes'.

Another great aspect to this film is the great supporting cast. Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane from the Tarzan films!) as Lavond's daughter, and character actress Rafaela Ottiano creepy as always as Lavond's accomplice.

Definitely worth a watch.
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Barrymore & Browning Provide 'Camp"
ccthemovieman-111 March 2006
For those who remember the word "camp," that description would apply to this film and especially the character played by lead actor Lionel Barrymore.

He makes this movie really fun to watch, adding humor to the "horror" story, dressing up and talking like an old woman en route to satisfying his revenge. The story has no credibility - absolutely none - but the movie is so likable that it's still satisfying and always entertaining. I wish this would be put out on DVD.

Another big plus for this movie is the fact it isn't that dated for being so old. The special effects, for its day, are quite good. The combination of humor and horror works, almost 70 years after it was released! Tod Browning, who did some weird movies such as "Freaks," directed this one, if that helps make you want to check this out.
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A Good Story with Special Effects Still Impressive in 2011
claudio_carvalho28 January 2011
After seventeen years in prison, the former respected Parisian banker Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) flees with his friend, the lunatic scientist Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) that is researching with his wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) the miniaturization of animals and human beings to improve the resources of mankind. Paul Lavond was framed for robbery by his scoundrel associates Emil Coulvet (Robert Greig), Charles Matin (Pedro de Cordoba) and Victor Radin (Arthur Hohl) that had stolen his business while his family was doomed to shame, poverty and tragedy. When Marcel reduces the retarded servant Lachna (Grace Ford), he learns that the woman is motionless and only responds to the control of his brain and has a heart attack. After the death of Marcel, Paul Lavond sees the chance to use the miniaturization process as instrument of vengeance and he travels to Paris with the insane Malita disguised of Madame Mandilip, a nice old lady and owner of a dolls store. Paul Lavond, using the identity of Madame Mandilip, befriends his resented and estranged daughter Lorraine Lavond (Maureen O'Sullivan) and plots a scheme to revenge and vindicate his family name.

"The Devil Doll" is an entertaining film by Tod Browning with a good story and special effects still impressive in 2011. The cast has great performances but Lionel Barrymore is excellent in his double role, and convincing as an old woman. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "A Boneca do Diabo" ("The Devil Doll")
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Deeper and more complex than it has any right to be; a masterpiece from Todd Browning
The_Void31 October 2008
Todd Browning is most famous for strange films such as Freaks and The Unknown; but the strangest thing about this film is actually not the subject material; it's the way everything comes together. Looking at this film on paper would easily lead any sane person into thinking that its going to be a great big mess, but somehow Todd Browning has pulled together ideas including a criminal on the run, a mad science project to shrink every living thing in the world, transvestism and a story about a man wanting to reconcile with the daughter who hates him, and created a masterpiece out of it! The plot focuses on Paul Lavond; a man wrongly accused of robbery and sent to Devil's Island. He manages to escape along with a friend of his; a mad scientist who has discovered a way to shrink living things, with the idea of having less food consumed in mind. Lavond seizes an opportunity to use this discovery to get his own back on those who framed him; and at the same time clear his name so his only daughter won't hate his memory.

The film is extremely entertaining to watch; Browning keeps things going with a real verve and since there's so much diversity on display, things simply don't have chance to get boring. When the film finished I knew I'd enjoyed it thoroughly; but it's not until I stepped back and started to think about the film that I realised what a masterpiece it is! Browning weaves his web with great skill and frankly unrelated plots fit together seamlessly. The lead character Paul Lavond at first appears to be a dastardly opportunist; but through this story of revenge and shrunken people, his character develops and by the end, we not only like the character - but actually understand and respect his actions throughout the film! (Yes, we understand and respect why he had to use shrunken people for revenge). For what at first appears to be a silly horror film, that is a real achievement. The lead character is brought to life by Lionel Barrymore; a very talented actor that leads the film brilliantly; both as leading man and his alter-ego, Madame Mandelip! There's so much more going on than just the central story too; Rafaela Ottiano's delightfully twisted sidekick Malita is the pick of Browning's sideshows. The Devil-Doll is liable to be brushed aside by many for the silliness of its central plot; but if you look a little deeper, you'll surely find a complex little story that works much better than it has any right to. I would not hesitate to HIGHLY recommend this film to anyone that loves their off-the-wall cinema!
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pleasantly surprising (SPOILER)
stevsan27 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this on TCM a few years ago and was quite surprised by it. I always like movies that don't do what you expect them to. Ones that don't follow the same hollywood formula. The special effects were very good considering it was made in 1936. What surprised me was that the shrinking of the people was merely a subplot. It has a quirky feel to it; almost "tongue in cheek" yet serious. It was ahead of its time in my opinion. I think Tod Browning must of had alot of fun with this one. I know I did.
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Panamint22 October 2007
The main reason to watch this movie is because it is entertaining. There are several reasons behind the high entertainment value. First and foremost is just the unique odd perspective of Tod Browning. You can almost hear people say "You can't do that!" and him reply "Oh yes I can, just watch me!" Another plus is that, believe it or not, the special effects still hold up after seventy years.

Lionel Barrymore in his most unusual role displays tremendous talent and versatility. He even makes his advanced arthritis condition work for him, as his crippled bent posture and slow walking ability (he would soon become cane-using and wheelchair-bound) add to his uncanny portrayal of an elderly woman. He sort of looks and sounds like his own sister in her later years, but anyway it really works.

The musical score is not much in evidence, but if you get a chance to hear a modern CD performance of it you will note that Waxman created a sophisticated waltz-themed work. Its complicated lilting structure that first ascends, then ends with several descending series of notes is brilliant, especially if played at faster tempo. It is subtly elegant and appropriate for this film.

Sheer talent and high creativity elevate this film to an "8" out of 10 rating on my scale.
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Genuinely Scary, Though It Veers Into Stella Dallas Territory
Handlinghandel30 October 2003
This could as easily have been given the name of Browning's previous movie: "Freaks."

Lionel Barrymore demonstrates more range than we're accustomed to, playing an escaped convict and, much of the time, a sweet old lady.

Ottiano is scary as the widow of his jail buddy, who has the patent on making live people into dolls.

The print shown this week on Turner Classics is beautiful but seems to have gaps in its continuity, as if all that survives may be something cut up for commercials in the days when local stations showed old movies.
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"We can make the whole world small!"
classicsoncall17 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I was completely blown away by this gem from "Freaks" horror-master Tod Browning, a director I'm coming to appreciate more and more, and one who's work I'll immediately start seeking out more often. It's rare to find a film from the 1930's that's so articulately conceived, with an absorbing story line, excellent photography and wonderful special effects. Those effects by the way, are as compelling as the ones from 1933's "King Kong", though arguably in the reverse direction. Also, in some perverse way, I'm sure the story's main plot would be attractive to current purveyors of the global warming hoax. What better way to control a growing population's use of natural resources than to shrink everyone down in order to consume less. That's actually mentioned in the film as one of the principal motivations of Marcel and Malita, the inventors of the miniaturization process!

With all that, the film also assumes some deviously humorous undertones as well. Note Paul Lavond's (Lionel Barrymore) remark to a skeptical Victor Radin, his first victim - "Once you're in my shop I'll wager you'll do anything I ask". Not to be undone by the offer to Radin to become a silent partner. I found that entire conversation to be so affably malevolent that I had to remind myself to get on with the picture so as not to miss what came next.

The film also gets some great mileage from the character of Malita, with that Bride of Frankenstein coiffure and those buggy eyes. I swear, there was a point during one of the experiments when it looked like those eyes would pop right out of her head. As for the inbred half-wit peasant Lachna (Grace Ford), I don't know if it was such a good idea to shrink her down to a state of normalcy. She could probably have done a lot more damage had she remained a mental defective under the guidance of Lavond. On the other hand, there's something to be said about the notion of curing her deformity in order to punish the crimes of the three partners who framed Lavond.

Interestingly, while Lavond carries out his revenge as a criminal mastermind, he gains the viewers' sympathy relative to his relationship with the daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan) he never knew. It was somewhat surprising that that situation wasn't resolved at the finale, other than for Lorraine's memory of her father to be cleansed of the hate she felt for so long. The happy ever after ending one might have wished for is tempered by Lavond's departure into anonymity, leaving the viewer with just the slightest bit of unease that everything didn't work out just fine.
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stevwinn23 January 2001
I was pleasantly surprised with this movie. It drew me in and kept my attention. The special effects were very good. The fact that the shrinking of the people was just a subplot was totally cool. I would like to see it again.
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Features a must-see Barrymore performance.
Hey_Sweden9 June 2013
In what was unfortunately his next to last directorial effort, Tod Browning creates a fun flick with a good gimmick (and good special effects), fine acting, and ultimately a truly touching quality. As we can see, our vengeance obsessed main character may be an antagonist but is not really a villain. His love for his daughter and mother comes through strongly, and with an actor as compulsively watchable as Lionel Barrymore in the lead, the movie is certainly easy enough to follow.

Barrymore plays Paul Lavond, a banker framed by his partners and sent up the river, who at the beginning of the movie breaks out of Devil's Island prison in the company of a persecuted scientist, Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), who's devised what *he* thinks is the answer to the worlds' hunger problem: shrink everybody and everything so that the quantity of the worlds' food will then amount to more. The thing, Marcel and his wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) are clearly mad, and despite Pauls' own misgivings about their actions (yes, our antagonist does have some morals) he's still okay with using them towards his own ends.

This leads to some fairly well realized sequences in which "miniaturized" dogs, horses, and people are controlled by masters such as Barrymore. The sequences in which Lachna (Grace Ford) and Radin (Arthur Hohl) go about particular missions are entertaining every step of the way. In general, the film is a little talky and never terribly scary, but Browning does generate some palpable suspense and in one great moment, as the clock is ticking, the character Matin (Pedro de Cordoba) feels his conscience getting to him. Maureen O'Sullivan, as Lavonds' daughter Lorraine, and Frank Lawton, as ambitious and cheery taxi driver Toto (!), make for an appealing couple. But getting to watch the interesting Mr. Barrymore at work is really the main reason to watch "The Devil-Doll", especially as he dresses in drag as Lavond masquerades as a doddering old character named Miss Mandilip.

Set in Paris, and scripted by Garrett Fort, Guy Endore, and Erich von Stroheim, this does have solid atmosphere going for it, as well as an affecting, emotional ending. This may not be quite as memorable as Brownings' other works, but is worth a look for fans of genre films from this period.

Seven out of 10.
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Another Splendid Tod Browning Classic!
Witchfinder-General-66613 October 2008
Most fellow lovers of Classic Horror, or Classic Cinema in general should agree that Tod Browning was doubtlessly an outstanding director of unique and exceptional Horror classics. My personal favorite film by this great director will always be his incomparably brilliant "Freaks" of 1932, which, as far as I am considered, ranks among the greatest films ever made. Browning has created a whole bunch of other masterpieces too, however, such as his doubtlessly most famous film, the original 1931 "Dracula" starring the great Bela Lugosi, "Mark Of The Vampire" (1935), "The Unknown" (1927) or this magnificent little film "The Devil-Doll" of 1936. While this is not as well-known as "Dracula" or "Freaks", "The Devil-Doll" is yet a highly memorable classic with an ingenious storyline and a very intense, often mesmerizing atmosphere.

Paul Lavand (Lionell Barrymore), a formerly respected Paris banker, has innocently spent many years in a Devil's Island prison. Driven by the desire for revenge, Lavand escapes with a fellow inmate, a scientist (Henry B. Walthall) who has achieved a technology that allows to shrink animals and humans to miniature size... The film is often described as being 'goofy' or 'camp', but these descriptions are not really justified. Granted, some elements of the story are a bit far-fetched, but who cares - it all works perfectly in the context of the film, and the outcome is a fascinating and ingenious cinematic experience that cineastes should not deny themselves. The great Lionell Barrymore fits perfectly in the leading role of Paul Lavand, and the rest of the cast also deliver very good performances. Henry B. Walthall is very good in his role of the scientist and Rafaela Ottianno, who plays the scientist's equally dedicated wife is especially memorable. Also, beautiful Maureen O'Sullivan was perfectly cast as Paul Lavand's innocent daughter. The most ingenious aspect about "The Devil-Doll", however is the mesmerizing atmosphere, as well as the ingenious special effects, which are truly amazing considering the time this was made. Overall, "The Devil-Doll" is another ingenious film by Tod Browning, and sadly his second to last, as, for some reason he quit the film business in 1939 (22 years before his death in 1962). Highly recommended to all my fellow fans of Classic Horror, and to film-buffs in general. 9/10
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C'mon, this picture is solid.
zhuangzi-121 February 2006
1) The acting is melodramatic - but good melodramatic. Barrymore is multi-dimensional, and not as predictable as one expects. 2) The special effects are not special, but engrossing nevertheless. That is, what happens is much more magical and imaginative than how it happens. 3) This helps remind us of the true, real horror behind this movie: there are people cooking up evil in their backrooms - even if it doesn't involve sorcery. 4) There is movement in the larger world that can only occur in cinema (not on stage) and yet so much of the action is claustrophobic. Another reminder that evil can find us, trap or even kill us, never to be heard again. A very real feeling in the USA in 2006.
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Effectively spooky
KillerCadugen19 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Paul Lavond is wrongly accused of robbery and murder and is sent to Devil's Island; he escapes and using the machines and potions of a scientist who escaped with him, Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) is able to exact revenge on those who are to blame for framing him. It seems like a simple (even silly) story, but director Tod Browning creates an chilling atmosphere that, coupled with solid trick photography, makes The Devil Doll into an effective, spooky horror movie. What makes it even better are the performances of Barrymore (who dresses in, uh, a dress for much of the movie) and Maureen O'Sullivan as the mad-as-a-hatter Lorraine Lavond. Browning directed the spectacular Dracula and the spectacularly weird Freaks, but unfortunately The Devil Doll was his next-to-last film and any horror fan should make it a point to watch it.
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Very well put movie
jeff_the_dj8 June 2005
I saw this morning at 3:00 am this morning on tcm and was like man! Browning made 4 awesome classic horrors in his time (Dracula, Freaks,Mark of the Vampire, and now the devil doll!) Very good movie with awesome eerie moody settings at the night of the streets of Paris! I give this movie a perfect 10 because all of the movies I've seen by Browning have been horrifically awesome, just to bad that he didn't make more than he did. So my message to everyone who likes the old horror movies from the 30's, then this is a movie you could not turn down by any means, get your hands on this while you can because its very good and very atmospheric at times as well. One last thing about this movie is, that it is tragic, all the way through. Even the ending is tragic, but then again it's compelling and emotional in a good way, I never really got it of what I felt a the ending, but I'm glad I saw this movie, because its a really good movie for classic horror movie lovers
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The Whole World Shrinks
tedg9 June 2005
You know how it goes in a cinematic life. You find filmmakers that you can trust to engage you. It's not so much that you feel comfortable with them, or that they entertain you.

From the thirties, the filmmaker that delivers for me is Tod Browning. Where Tim Burton portrays a damaged world, he does so in order to laugh at it. Browning's world is populated entirely by freaks, even the cops. Its all an honorable circus.

This is one of his best, because it is less obvious and because it has some really good actors.

The story is completely incomprehensible. A framed bank president seeks revenge. He is thrown into control of a situation which begins the movie: there's a system for shrinking people and animals but they lack minds, so can be controlled by concentrating. This works for humans and animals and inexplicably the controller (usually Lionel Barrymore, the wronged banker), gets feedback somehow so he can direct the little people even when he can't see what's happening.

Things are complicated by a slew of women: the newly dead scientist's wife who has the shrinking secret and who thinks everyone should be shrunk — to save food, you see. There's the banker's mother and daughter. The latter provides some melodrama. And our banker disguises himself as a woman dollmaker.

These women grind the soft spots in our minds.

There are tons of plot holes. But we don't mind a bit because the deal here is the creation of a world of darkness and weird physics.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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"We'll make the whole WORLD small!"
utgard1419 February 2014
Lionel Barrymore escapes from Devil's Island along with an old scientist. The scientist has created a means of reducing humans to the size of dolls. After the scientist's death, his wife (Rafaela Ottiano) continues his work and helps Barrymore carry out his revenge plot. So they travel to Paris, where Barrymore dresses up like an old lady and opens a toy store! Great special effects, good performances, and solid MGM production values make this one of the best non-Universal horror-thrillers from the '30s. This was director Tod Browning's second-to-last film and his last horror film. It shows more polish than some of his earlier talkies. It's sad his career was so short. But he directed several classics, silent and sound, that have endured for decades. This is definitely a good one classic horror fans will want to see.
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Very good horror entry from 30's MGM
AlsExGal27 October 2012
Directed by Tod Browning, it's hard not to think about "The Unholy Three" where Lon Chaney dresses as an old lady as a cover for committing a multitude of crimes. However, that's where the similarity ends. Here it is Lionel Barrymore dressed as an old lady, posing as a Parisian toy manufacturer, when he is in fact hunted fugitive Paul Lavond, who was framed 17 years before by three associates and sent to Devil's Island for life. Once back in Paris, forgive and forget are not in this guy's vocabulary. Lavond says he must clear his name for the sake of his daughter, but - let's face it - he seems to be really enjoying his revenge.

There are some plot holes here that confuse me. Lavond and his inmate friend Marcel escape from Devil's Island, which is off the coast of South America. Yet somehow the convicts manage to crawl to Marcel's wife's home. How did they get across the ocean? Did Marcel's wife relocate to Devil's Island hoping Marcel would escape? Although Lavond technically does not commit any crimes against the innocent, is what he does horrific enough that the production code requires his death? The ending is left so open it's hard to know what Paul Lavond's final move will be.

Kudos to Rafaela Ottiano as Marcel's crazed widow with that streak of white in her hair and that Mrs. Danvers of the Devil Dolls vibe going for her as she somewhat steals the show. It's never mentioned how she lost that one arm and what appears to be part of one leg, but it sure adds to the atmosphere. Maureen O'Sullivan hams it up a bit as Lavond's embittered daughter but the relatively unknown Frank Lawton as her taxi driving fiancé somewhat dampens the effect with a fine performance as a very tolerant fellow who looks for the sunny side of life.

Highly recommended as an odd little film from a director who specialized in them and that was quite daring for a movie made just after the production code.
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