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The Devil-Doll

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1936

‘…The Devil-Doll is as sprightly as a convict granny with a basket full of stiletto wielding dolls; ie very sprightly indeed….’

After the diversion of the 1964 Devil Doll, we arrive at The Devil-Doll I was originally looking for, Tod Browning’s 1936 chiller: I vaguely remembered this from my childhood from the late night BBC 2 Horror Double Bills. While not exactly a terrifying proposition by 2021 standards, The Devil-Doll is an interesting, amusing and super-culty film that makes it 74 minutes well spent. Based on a 1933 novel called Burn, Witch, Burn by A Merritt, The Devil-Doll has an off-kilter narrative that somewhat boggles the brain; think Mrs Doubtfire, but with killer dolls, and you’ve got the idea.

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) escapes from jail, and seeks shelter with an aged professor and fellow convict pal Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) who just happens to have mastered the art of miniaturisation before his jail sentence began. That doesn’t make a greet deal of sense from the get-go, but we’ve barely started. Marcel shows Paul a series of toys that are actually miniature animals; the creatures appear dead, but Marcel can bring them to life with his mind. With this technology, Marcel hopes to reinvigorate the food marketing and supply world, but drops dead before he can apply the science. Paul picks up the toys, and begins a reign of terror against those who wrongly imprisoned him, The Fugitive style, and hopes to win the attention of his estranged daughter Lorraine Lavond (Maureen O’Sullivan) before he gets caught….

There’s a comments section attached, and if anyone wants to explain to me how miniaturising dogs will help the world’s food shortages, I’m keen to hear it. But there’s plenty of other strange issues to ponder here; why does no-one recognise Paul when he’s disguised as a granny, the most obvious disguise since Mrs Doubtfire? Paul is supposedly our hero, but can we really endorse a man who discuses himself as a granny to command an army of killer dolls armed with tiny stilettos? Can we honestly say we empathise with this man’s struggle?

Either way, The Devil-Doll rises to some shocking moments, and some ingenious miniature effects in the style of Bride of Frankenstein. Browning brings quite a sweep to the story, and his focus on the father-daughter relationship leads to a touching and unexpected finale. Old movies often disappoint, but The Devil-Doll is as sprightly as a convict granny with a basket full of stiletto wielding dolls; ie very sprightly indeed. Just £46 on Amazon right now.

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  1. Had the guy been around now he could have made a mint in the diet business. Mini-me with teeth. Sounds appealing. And right up Cult Avenue.

  2. Throwing my hat into the ring here. Miniaturize the animals when young, let them grow up to “full size” in their miniaturized state, then un-miniaturize them. One carrot should do for a whole family of rabbits. And we still get big animals, cheap.

    Of course, it doesn’t explain where the extra weight of the animals goes to or comes from. And honestly, I’d be MUCH more afraid of a 6ft man wielding a one foot knife than a 1ft man wielding a 2in knife.

    • Not mention of any un miniaturising process in this film. One way only. Nice try.

        • Exactly. Watch the mental disintegration of those who feel that miniaturisation will solve the problems of world hunger. Nonsense!

          • I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t think this fits into the movie BUT if you miniaturized every person, then you’d be all set. At least in terms of food. Every cow could feed a village.

            Rebuilding your infrastructure would be a whole different matter.

            “Curse you, tiny toilet!”
            ~Vector, from Despicable Me

            • I hear you, but if you miniaturise everything, then you’re kind of back where you started, right? How would that be better?

                • So, if they had a self-miniaturising device, why are they miniaturising cows and horses? Ok, so there would be massive burgers and pizzas, but we’d be two inches tall. I can’t see this being an improvement. I do admire you sticking with this, but I really don’t get why making tiny sheep helps fight world hunger…

                    • Phew. It’s been a long journey, but with three of the WP4 in agreement, I have to declare miniaturisation to be useless as a form of solving world hunger. Sure, I’d love to be tiny and have a great big slice of pizza, but that’s hardly an example for the world to follow. Glad we had this talk.

                    • I think this might be true. But the mechanism to do so is fictional. Sorry to crush a dream like this.

  3. “There’s a comments section attached, and if anyone wants to explain to me how miniaturising dogs will help the world’s food shortages, I’m keen to hear it.”

    As Alex says, it’s simple. Bigger animals need more food. Smaller animals need less food. So if we have smaller animals, they’ll need less food. Comprende?

        • Must have been quite a service. Or did the elders put you in the pew of shame again this week because of your work on this blog? The kirk can be so judgmental. But I like that you’re keeping up the auld ways.

          • Nope. Keep up. In the middle of a 100 mile drive. So how does a box of tiny giraffes help world poverty? Eh? What’s your answer, Uncle Fester?

            • You have to drive 100 miles to the kirk? I heard the Church of Scotland was experiencing hard times but that strikes me as an onerous burden of faith.

              Tiny giraffes eat less than big giraffes. *sigh*

              • Yup, but then there’s hardly any giraffe to go round, since they are now tiny. As Indiana Jones’s dad says ‘our situation has not improved’

                • There may be many more giraffes. And this doesn’t affect us anyway as we don’t eat giraffes. You are being too anthropocentric.

                    • Plants aren’t being shrunk, only animals. So animals will consume 1/6 the amount of energy that is still available in grains and veggies. Yes, cattle and pigs will be smaller, but so will humans, so that’s a wash.

                      All of this is explained in the movie itself. Were you nodding off at that point?

                      *sigh* *face palm*

                    • Even if you miniaturise humans too, then the cow to human is exactly the same as it was before. And miniaturising humans is not part of this cure for world hunger anyway. So wrong, wrong and wrong again, Uncle Fester. Keep trying!

                    • I can’t explain the difference between absolute and relative measures to you now. The Scottish school system has failed totally. Hang your head in the Pew of Shame. The elders were right.

                    • Mealy mouthed gobbledegook! You said you understood this process but it’s clear you understand nothing. best get out of the way in case anyone can actually explain this, your five minutes of fame are up!

  4. *sigh*

    As noted in the the review of this film on the Internet’s top film site:

    Here is Marcel explaining his scheme: “Lavond, my friend, millions of years ago the creatures that roamed this world were gigantic. As they multiplied, the earth could no longer produce enough food. Think of it, Lavond: every living creature reduced to one-sixth its size. One-sixth of its physical need. Food for six times all of us!” Do the math!

    More can be read here: https://alexonfilm.com/2015/07/31/the-devil-doll-1936/

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