The Devil-Doll (1936)

After spending seventeen years in prison for being wrongfully accused of robbing a bank in Paris, Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) escapes along with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), a scienist.  The two of them make their way to Marcel’s home where his wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano) has been carrying on his work.  Marcel’s big mission has been to find a way to shrink human beings down to the size of dolls.  Marcel has good intentions for this idea, but Paul sees it as a way to potentially get revenge on the three people who framed him for that bank robbery.

When they successfully shrink one of Malita’s maids, it turns out the shrunken humans can be manipulated through mind control.  Marcel doesn’t live to enjoy his success, so Paul and Malita go to Paris to carry on his work and so that Paul can carry out his revenge scheme.  By then, news of Paul’s prison break has made the news and there’s a big reward for anyone who can capture him.  Victor (Arthur Hohl), Emil (Robert Greig), and Charles (Pedro de Cordoba), the men who framed Paul, are worried that Paul is out to get them.  To avoid the police, Paul disguises himself as a kind old lady named Madame Mandilip who owns a toy store.

However, the one person in Paris Paul really wants to see is his daughter Lorraine (Maureen O’Sullivan).  He hasn’t seen her in years, but finds out that she hasn’t had an easy life and is very bitter and angry toward her father.  More determined than ever, he sets out to get back at the men really responsible for the robbery.  Disguised as Madame Mandilip, he brings one of the shrunken humans to Victor at the bank, convinces him it’s a doll, and gets him to invest in the dolls.  When Victor stops by the toy store, he gets turned into a doll.  Later, Paul sells a doll to Emil’s wife and manipulates it to steal her jewelery and inject Emil with a drug that leaves him paralyzed.  By then, Charles is so terrified about what might happen to him that he breaks down and confesses to everything.  With the truth finally being made known, the only thing left for Paul to do is make sure Lorraine is all right.

The Devil-Doll is certainly an unusual movie. After all, just how often do you get to watch Lionel Barrymore play an elderly woman?  This movie could have easily been a complete mess, but leave it to Tod Browning to make it work.  The performances are good, it’s got plenty of creepy horror moments, but there’s some real heart to it, too.  It’s one of those movies that you really just have to see.  If you’re a fan of The Unholy Three, The Devil-Doll will probably be right up your alley.