31 Days of Horror: The Devil-Doll

The Devil Doll (1936) is one of Tod Browning's (Dracula, Freaks) lesser known movies. It's a twisted little film that at times has to be seen to be believed.

Set in France - Lionel Barrymore is a banker who was wrongly convicted of robbing his own bank and killing a security guard. After seventeen years on Devil's Island - he escapes with a scientist (Henry B. Walthall). Walthall had invented a shrinking ray which he had planned to use to help the world's growing shortage of resources. Barrymore has other plans. Walthall dies and his widow Rafaela Ottiano agrees to help Barrymore with his revenge.

Disguised as an old woman Barrymore opens up a shop that sells dolls. Some of these dolls happen to be people that Barrymore and Ottiano have shrunk that respond to Barrymore's will. And these dolls are sold to Barrymore's enemies - the ones who framed him.

I have always found Browning's movies to be a bit static. They lack the beautiful cinematography of Karl Freund's work or even the unique style of director Rouben Mamoulian (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Other directors of the same era like Lewis Milestone,Michael Curtiz,John Ford and Cecil B. DeMille all seemed to be able to create "motion" pictures while Browning's films all seem to be very set bound. But Browning's off-beat plots make up for it and this film is as off-beat as you can get. There's nothing like some good old fashioned cross-dressing, the miniaturization of people and of course some good old fashioned murder.

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