Guest Movie Review: The Devil Doll (1936)

eliBy Eli Sanchez
Guest Contributor
Silver Screen Capturedevildoll

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Tod Browning’s 1936 vengeance tale The Devil Doll (B+) tells the tale of Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) an escaped convict from Devil’s Island intent on seeking revenge against the three banking partners who had unscrupulously framed him. He gets away with the help of Marcel (Henry Walthall) who happens to be a mad scientist. Marcel was dabbling in miniaturizing people to solve the world’s food shortage problem, but unfortunately the whole process wipes out free will and any memory of their previous lives. Marcel pretty much bites the bullet as soon as he gets home and basically right after he has supposedly figured out some of the miniaturization issues while rotting away in prison. His creepy wife Malita, played to the OCD hilt by Rafaela Ottiano, participates in taking his exhausted final experiment to its ultimate conclusion. “Yay!!! Success!!! I don’t feel so good.” And with that, Marcel becomes a footnote to another tome of terror. The film highlights some experiment in special effects by having people use large sets to create the effect of being miniaturized. This was used more effectively in the 1950s The Incredible Shrinking Man. The film also boasts having Lionel Barrymore in drag impersonating a kindly old woman who owns a doll shop in Paris, selling “real feeling” miniature animals (I think we all know where this is going) and becomes Madame Mandelip, proprietress. Of course, what happens is a Count of Monte Cristo type revenge plot in which Lavond uses his nasty little mini-me’s on an attempt to bring his conspirators to justice and save his own name. Along the way, he gets the confession and spurns his Malita who ends up setting fire to the Doll Store and all the evidence therein. The film does have a heart as Lavond’s purpose is also to mend his name with his estranged daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) and his elderly mother. The film is essentially a remake of The Count of Monte Cristo and more notably Browning’s two earlier films both titled The Unholy Three (1925 and the 1930 sound remake). Lionel Barrymore’s Madame Mandelip is a direct nod to Lon Chaney’s performance in The Unholy Three as Echo the Ventriloquist (who also disguises himself as an elderly woman).

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I've reviewed films for more than 20 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and direct-to-video or streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

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