It's hard to believe this film was made in 1936. If I didn't know better I would swear it was made in the 1950's. Such is the skill of director Tod Browning [Dracula, Freaks] as he tells the tale of an escaped convict who uses miniaturized humans to take his revenge on those who framed him. Lionel Barrymore [Mark of the Vampire, It's a Wonderful Life] stars as Paul Lavond/Madame Mandilip. He is great in his dual roles and plays the aging Madame without being overly campy. It's a nuanced and realistic performance that works very well. Maureen O'Sullivan [Tarzan the Ape Man, A Day at the Races] is also very good as his daughter, Lorraine Lavond. She has a strong presence on screen and is not tempted to be overly dramatic like many of her contemporaries.
My favorite performance, however, comes from Italian actress Rafaela Ottiano as Malita, the wife of the mad scientist who co-created the miniaturization process. Her expressive eyes and bride of Frankenstein hair make her unforgettable in the role.
But the real stars of this show are Tod Browning's direction and Leonard Smith's cinematography. This film is simply beautifully made with a number of more modern filming techniques that were definitely ahead of their time. Hitchcock would have been proud!
While The Devil Doll is more thriller than horror, it is a well made film through and thought. If you're a fan of Tod Browning, it's definitely a must-see. Yes, the premise is a bit hard to swallow but, hey, it's Science Fiction so suspend reality for a while and just roll with it!
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.