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The Devil-Doll [Lionel Barrymore]

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The Devil-Doll (1936) starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by Tod Browning
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The Devil-Doll (1936) starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan, directed by Tod Browning

The Devil-Doll – Lionel Barrymore stars in this classic horror thriller about a Devil’s Island escapee who shrinks murderous slaves and sells them to his victims as dolls.


The Devil-Doll is a very good movie, with a very strange premise. Two prisoners escape from Devil’s Island. They head to safety with the wife of one of the prisoners. There, one of them – a scientist – reveals what he had been working on. A process to shrink human beings to the size of dolls. A benevolent idea, since he’s trying to forestall starvation from overpopulation. But, the process leaves the subjects near-mindless, susceptible to mental control. Sadly, he dies shortly after his reunion with his wife.

The other man also has plans. Plans for revenge on the three bankers who framed him for murder, and sent him to prison for life. And he’ll use that process to enact his revenge.

Frank Lawton and Maureen O'Sullivan in The Devil Doll
Toto cares for Lorraine, and wants her to be happy, in The Devil Doll

What really makes The Devil Doll exceptional is the relationships. The surviving prisoner, Paul, wants his mother and daughter to be free of the stigma of his “criminal” past. Toto wants Paul’s daughter to be free of the past, and happy.

Cast of characters

  • Lionel Barrymore (On Borrowed Time, Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day) as Paul Lavond. The protagonist, who’s escaped from Devil’s Island. He intends to use Marcel’s discovery to get revenge on the three men who framed him. And, in the process, help his daughter to be free of the stigma of criminal’s daughter. An intelligent, clever man. An excellent performance by Lionel Barrymore. His impersonation as the elderly Madame Mandelip is very well done.
  • Maureen O’Sullivan (Tarzan the Ape Man) as Lorraine Lavond. Lavond’s daughter, who’s grown up as a criminal’s daughter. This has cost her greatly, and she works in the lowest menial labor. It’s also cost her in self-respect. She lives with her loving grandmother. And blames her “criminal” father for everything wrong in her life.
  • Frank Lawton (David Copperfield, The Invisible Ray) as Toto. The young man in love with Lorraine. An entrepreneur, who’s building a taxi company. He loves Lorraine unconditionally, a very likable character.
  • Rafaela Ottiano (Grand Hotel, Topper Returns) as Malita. Marcel’s widow, who’s determined to continue his work. She works with Paul to that end … Until after his revenge is complete, and Paul has no intention of continuing. She may be slightly mad.
  • Robert Greig (Animal Crackers, I Married a Witch) as Emil Coulvet. One of the three bankers that Paul plans revenge on. The second of Paul Lavond’s victims.
  • Lucy Beaumont as Madame Lavond. Paul’s mother. In disguise as Madame Mandelip, Paul can visit with her. One of only two people who know his secret.
  • Henry B. Walthall (The Whispering Shadow) as Marcel. The brilliant, but ill, scientist. His discovery makes Paul’s revenge possible.
  • Pedro de Cordoba (Before I Hang) as Charles Matin. Another of the three that blamed Paul Lavond for their own theft … And act of murder.
  • Arthur Hohl (The Kennel Murder Case, Island of Lost Souls) as Victor Radin. The last of the three corrupt bankers. And the first of Paul Lavond’s victims.

Editorial review of The Devil-Doll courtesy of

SYNOPSIS: After seventeen years in prison, the former respected Parisian banker Paul Lavond flees with his friend, the lunatic scientist Marcel that is researching with his wife Malita the miniaturization of animals and human beings to improve the resources of mankind. Paul Lavond was framed for robbery by his scoundrel associates Emil Coulvet, Charles Matin and Victor Radin that had stolen his business while his family was doomed to shame, poverty and tragedy. When Marcel reduces the retarded servant Lachna, he learns that the woman is motionless and only responds to the control of his brain and has a heart attack.

After the death of Marcel, Paul Lavond sees the chance to use the miniaturization process as instrument of vengeance and he travels to Paris with the insane Malita disguised of Madame Mandilip, a nice old lady and owner of a dolls store. Paul Lavond, using the identity of Madame Mandilip, befriends his resented and estranged daughter Lorraine Lavond and plots a scheme to revenge and vindicate his family name. …The Devil-Doll ( The Witch of Timbuctoo ) ( The Devil Doll )

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