“Without my hatred I never could have lived to exhume myself”
Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) use to be a banker. He was wrongly convicted of robbing his own Paris bank and killing a night watchman. He has been in prison for seventeen years. He escaped from Devil's Island with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall). Marcel is a scientist who has created a formula to reduce people to one-sixth of their original size. His aim was to make the Earth's resources last longer. With the population increasing, he feels there is a need for his invention. Not long after his escape he suffers a heart attack.
Lavond is out for revenge. He blames his three partners for framing him. Victor Radin (Arthur Hohl) Charles Matin (Pedro de Cordoba) and Emil Coulvet (Robert Greig). With Marcel gone his widow Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) convinces him that with Marcel’s technique he can get his revenge on his former business partners. He returns to Paris and disguises himself as an old woman who sells life-like dolls. The old woman calls herself Madam Mandelip.
His first victim is Radin. He visits him pretending to look for backing to manufacture his dolls. He brings one of his shrunken horses. Radin is impressed. He makes an appointment to see Madam Mandelip in her shop. When he gets there Lavond paralyses him and shrinks him. The second victim is Coulvet. Lavond visits his wife (Claire Du Brey) as Mandelip. She sells her a doll.
That night the doll comes alive and steals all of the wife’s jewelry. She then sticks Coulvet with a pin and paralyzes him. For Matin, he sends him an anonymous note to confess. If he doesn’t confess by 10:00 he will be killed. He then sends one of his dolls to Matin’s house to kill him. At exactly 10:00 Matin confesses and saves his own life.
Now that Lavond is cleared he is ready to reconnect with his daughter. But first he must destroy everything connected with Marcel’s shrinking process. But Marcel's wife Malita has other plans.
“Devil Doll” was released in 1936 and was directed by Tod Browning. Browning is the guy that brought you “Dracula” and “Freaks”. Everybody makes a big deal about Lionel Barrymore in drag. Get over it.
Labeled as horror, science fiction and melodrama “Devil Doll” is all of that. Barrymore, O’Hara and Ottiano are exceptional. And considering its 1936 the special effects are great. There’s been criticism about all the sappy stuff with Lavond and his daughter. To some it dampens the horror aspect of the movie. Some blame MGM. They have a tendency to have uplifting endings. This wouldn’t happen on a Universal picture, or even a Hammer Studio movie. Perhaps not. They prefer to limit their genres. Even so, it’s quite a nice little gem of a picture.
As far as the ending is concerned, it’s the best you can expect. The bad guy, who is really a good guy, turns into a bad guy to get the badder guys. The best you can expect in this scenario is what happens. Whatever your feelings, it’s a good movie.