The Devil-Doll

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(7/10) In a nutshell: Dracula and Freaks director Tod Browning’s sci-fi/horror/comedy The Devil-Doll from 1936 is an accomplished special effects reel concerning shrunken people. Despite the feel that Browning recycles his old themes, this moral play is one of the best sci-fi films out of USA in the late thirties – and Lionel Barrymore in drag is absurdly fun.

The Devil-Doll. 1936, USA. Directed by Tod Browning (uncredited). Written by Tod Browning (uncredited), Garret Fort, Guy Endore, Erich von Stroheim, Richard Schayer. Loosely based on the novel Burn, Witch, Burn by Abraham Merritt. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Rafalea Ottiano. Produced by Tod Browning, E.J. Mannix for MGM. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 7.0

Grace Ford as the shrunken assistant Lachna in The Devil-Doll from 1936.

Grace Ford as the shrunken assistant Lachna in The Devil-Doll from 1936.

Here’s one that got away. I always assumed, based on the title, that The Devil-Doll had more to do with black magic or voodoo than science fiction. Turns out I was wrong, and boy am I glad I watched it. The film was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1936, one of the big five studios who jumped the sci-fi horror bandwagon after Universal’s five years of almost supreme reign over the genre. The film followed the release of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, review), a film that toyed with the notion of miniature people. What was a throwaway moment in Bride becomes the whole premise for The Devil-Doll, directed by the man that started the whole horror shebang by directing Dracula in 1931, Tod Browning. Continue reading