Based on the novel Burn Witch Burn by Abraham Merritt (Seven Footprints to Satan)
Story by Tod Browning
Screenplay by Garret Fort, Guy Endore & Eric Von Stroheim
Directed by Tod Browning (Freaks, Mark of the Vampire)
Plot: Paul Lavond and Marcel escape prison, each with their own goal. While Marcel wants to save the world by shrinking people down to use less food and space for mankind, Lavond wants to kill the three men who stole money and framed him for it. When Marcel dies, Lavond uses Marcel’s widow Malita and takes on the persona of Madame Mandelip to take out his revenge and win back the love of his daughter Lorraine, who has grown up thinking her father a criminal.
Personal Thoughts: I first discovered this film in the early 1990s on a random TNT viewing, back when they aired movies and before the creation of Turner Classic Movies. I love seeing Lionel Barrymore in a different role other than the two parts I know him best for, Old Man Potter and the radio version of Ebenezer Scrooge. Maureen O’Sullivan doesn’t do much here but enhances the film by her presence. I always thought the scenes of the small killer dolls were similar to The Bride of Frankenstein from the previous year. While not a classic, it’s well-made and fun afternoon matinee.
- Initial reviews were less than stellar as the film apparently lacked the superior fantasy elements of the novel. This might be a good reason why MGM rarely made any more horror films after this.
- The dolls were made to represent the Apache street gangs of ore-World War I Paris. The dance performed in the film is a homage to the gang and was still popular in the 30s and 40s.
- Lionel Barrymore is seen moving around fairly well. Two years later, he would be forced to pull out of MGMs adaption of A Christmas Carol due to back issues, which eventually forced him into a wheelchair. That is the more remembered visage of Barrymore due to his iconic role of Old Man Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life.