The Devil Doll (1936): The movie that puts the horrible in horror!

Just the description of it is enough to scare a person out of his wits! Here are some of the salient features: Devil’s Island Prison Camp in French Guyana, harrowing escape from said prison camp, central character played by an aging silent movie star who died before the film was released, wife of this character wears her hair in a modified Bride of Frankenstein do, an incredible shrinking St. Bernard dog, an incredible shrinking circus horse, an incredible shrinking woman, an incredible shrinking man, incredible shrunken people become the subjects of mind control by a wrongly convicted man bent on vengeance, and, saving the best for last, Lionel Barrymore in drag!

Are you scared yet? 
Lionel Barrymore ... Paul Lavond
Maureen O'Sullivan ... Lorraine Lavond
Frank Lawton ... Toto
Rafaela Ottiano ... Malita
Robert Greig ... Emil Coulvet
Lucy Beaumont ... Madame Lavond
Henry B. Walthall ... Marcel
Grace Ford ... Lachna
Pedro de Cordoba ... Charles Matin
Arthur Hohl ... Victor Radin
Juanita Quigley ... Marguerite Coulvet
Claire Du Brey ... Madame Coulvet (as Claire du Brey)
Rollo Lloyd ... Detective Maurice
E. Alyn Warren ... Commissioner of Police

Directed by
Tod Browning (uncredited)

Writing credits
Garrett Fort (screenplay) &
Guy Endore (screenplay) and
Erich von Stroheim (screenplay) (as Eric Von Stroheim)
Tod Browning (story)
Abraham Merritt (novel "Burn Witch Burn")
Richard Schayer contributor to dialogue (uncredited)

Produced by
Tod Browning .... producer
E.J. Mannix .... producer (uncredited)

Original Music by
Franz Waxman (musical score)
Edward Ward (uncredited)

Cinematography by
Leonard Smith (photographed by)

Film Editing by
Fredrick Y. Smith

Art Direction by
Cedric Gibbons

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) has been wrongly convicted of embezzlement from his bank, on the false testimony of his former partners, the true guilty parties. Lavond is sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, while his wife and daughter languish in poverty, ostracized as the result of the scandal. After seventeen years, he engineers an escape, in the company of his friend, Emil Coulvet. They make their way to Coulvet’s old home, where they find his wife, Malita, of the BoF do, waiting to continue Emil’s research into the miniaturization of living things.

The experiments are progressing nicely when Emil dies of an apparent heart attack. Paul agrees to join Malita in carrying on Emil’s work; however, Paul has his own agenda, to put it mildly. Paul re-invents himself as a little old lady who owns a toy shop, where real toys are marketed, as a cover to place some of the “living” toys, controlled by Paul’s mind, into the homes of his former partners.

Up to this time, we see Paul as motivated purely by the burning hatred he feels toward is former partners, and his desire to avenge himself. However, we learn that Paul has hopes of re-uniting with his now grown daughter, who hates his memory, and is an orphan, because Paul’s wife passed away while he was in prison. The outlook for a reunion is unfavorable, especially after Paul’s “dolls” engage in a few assassinations, but a man who escaped Devil’s Island does not give up easily.

One would think that this incredible and convoluted plot would not hold the viewer’s interest, but the quality of the screenplay, the performances, the cinematography (excellent special effects for the time), all set in Franz Waxman’s wonderful score, make for an engaging and eerie viewing experience.


  1. Great post, Noiree! Lionel Barrymore in drag was something to see! I haven't seen this movie in a long time and will have to pull it out of my collection for another viewing during this Halloween month.

  2. Noiree, I saw this film a couple of years ago on TCM. It is very creepy. I am glad that you pointed out that Todd Browning directed and produced this film; he was a master of the horror genre. Henry B. Walthall must be the aging silent movie star who died before the film was released. Excellent post!

  3. Silent, I did not have time to do any research on Todd Browning; however, his being a master of the horror genre would certainly explain why this movie is so effective. What a great association we have here, where one can learn even from the comments on his or her own post!

    Thanks to both of you ladies for the kind words.

  4. Watched this flick on TCM yesterday. Weird, creepy, and entertaining all at the same time. It was a nice switch-up to my overdose on AMC's direct-to-video marathon this Halloween. Remarkably, all of the 75 year old film's effects were at least passable, some, like the over-sized sets were downright impressive. Worth the watch... and for Todd Browning fans a must see.