The Devil-Doll

The Devil-Doll (1936) is a horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring a cross-dressing Lionel Barrymore and Maureen O'Sullivan as his daughter, Lorraine Lavond. The movie was adapted from the novel Burn Witch Burn! (1932) by Abraham Merritt.[1] It has become a cult movie. [2]

The Devil-Doll
Directed byTod Browning
Produced byEdward J. Mannix
Written by
Music byFranz Waxman
CinematographyLeonard Smith
Edited byFrederick Y. Smith
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • July 10, 1936 (1936-07-10)
Running time
79 minutes
CountryUnited States


Paul Lavond (Barrymore), who was wrongly convicted of robbing his own Paris bank and killing a night watchman more than seventeen years ago, escapes Devil's Island with Marcel (Henry B. Walthall), a scientist who is trying to create a formula to reduce people to one-sixth of their original size. The intended purpose of the formula is to make the Earth's limited resources last longer for an ever-growing population. The scientist dies after their escape.

Lavond joins the scientist's widow, Malita (Rafaela Ottiano), and decides to use the shrinking technique to obtain revenge on the three former business associates who had framed him and to vindicate himself. He returns to Paris and disguises himself as an old woman who sells lifelike dolls. He shrinks a young girl and one of his former associates to infiltrate the homes of the other two former associates, paralyzing one.

When the final associate confesses before he is attacked, Lavond clears his name and secures the future happiness of his estranged daughter, Lorraine (O'Sullivan), in the process. Malita isn't satisfied, and wants to continue to use the formula to carry on her husband's work. She tries to kill Paul when he announces that he is finished with their partnership, having accomplished all he intended, but she blows up their lab, killing herself.

Paul tells Toto, Lorraine's fiancé, about what happened. He meets his daughter, pretending to be the deceased Marcel. He tells Lorraine that Paul Lavond died during their escape from prison, but that he loved her very much. Lavond then departs, to an uncertain fate.



Marketed as a novelty thriller, The Devil-Doll was not a financial success, although it did receive some praise from critics.[3][4] The New York Times gave the film a positive review, making special note of its entertaining use of special effects, comparing it favorably to such films as King Kong and The Invisible Man.[5] However, a review in the American science fiction magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories was not as enthusiastic, calling the film a "disappointment" and a "run-of-the-mill thriller which does not attempt to recapture the unique fantasy of Merritt's novel."[6]

See also


  1. The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1931-40 by The American Film Institute, c.1993
  2. Paul Simpson, "The Rough Guide to Cult Movies: The Good, The Bad and the Very Weird", Rough Guides UK, 2010.
  3. Towlson, Jon (2014). Subversive Horror Cinema : Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present. p. 41. ISBN 978-0786474691. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  4. Towlson, Jon (2016). The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films, 1931-1936. McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 978-0786494743. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  5. Nugent, Frank S. "Movie Review - - Hollywood Opens Its Bag of Tricks for the Capitol's 'The Devil Doll' -- The Roxy Presents 'M'liss.' -". Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  6. H.K. (December 1936). "Scientifilm Review". Wonder Stories: 119. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
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