THE DEVIL-DOLL (1936)
Article #32 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-17-2001
Posting date: 8-30-2001
This isn’t the first movie to deal with tiny people (a handful of them pop up in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN), but it may be the first where the concept is central to the plot. A man falsely convicted of murder (Lionel Barrymore) manages to escape from prison with the help of another inmate, who happens to be a scientist experimenting with a process of reducing animals and people to small sizes and controlling them mentally. When the scientist dies, the convict joins forces with the scientist’s widow (Rafaelo Ottiano), and, in disguise as an old woman who makes toys, uses the small people to gain revenge and prove his innocence.
Despite the fact that I have several problems with this movie, I really like it; in fact, I find something tremendously moving in Barrymore’s relationship with his daughter. One of the movie’s problems is that it feels like two different movies that somehow got mixed together; the convict-proving-his-innocence story has a serious edge that seems at odds with the lighter-toned miniature people angle. You could have made two different movies out of this story.
Nevertheless, I quite enjoy it. Lionel Barrymore is always fun to watch, even though I don’t find him entirely convincing as an old woman (for that matter, I have the same problem with Lon Chaney’s similar performances in both versions of THE UNHOLY THREE, of which this movie may be a partial remake), and Rafaelo Ottiano’s bizarre crippled widow with the shock of white hair is one of the stranger characters out there; Tod Browning certainly had a big hand in coming up with this character. And the ending of this movie where Barrymore meets his daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) atop the Eiffel Tower is a truly poignant scene.