My parents used to tell me "it's not Halloween without Tod Browning" - a rare instance of my parents being completely on-target. So tonight I watched one of my favorite Browning movies - The Devil-Doll, starring Lionel Barrymore as a man who escapes prison and evades capture while plotting his revenge against those who wronged him by disguising himself as an old woman.
Cinephiles may recognize some of that plot synopsis from Browning's earlier silent classic starring Lon Chaney, The Unholy Three. I probably like that movie a little bit more, but I will concede that Barrymore makes a more convincing old lady than Chaney does. And The Devil-Doll also has a truly grotesque science-fiction twist that makes it a lot weirder than the earlier movie, too.
That twist (and you can stop reading here if you want to avoid knowledge of this movie's gonzo insane plot) has to do with a special piece of technology developed by Barrymore's escape-mate that allows him to shrink living things down to 1/6th their size. There's one unfortunate side-effect though: The recipients of this treatment lose all of their will - in fact, they appear to lose all brain activity whatsoever. But they can be compelled to move about through intense concentration and will power. The science is fuzzy, we don't understand it, just go with it, etc.
From there, Barrymore uses this special process to inflict revenge on the three people who framed him and put him in prison, and clear his name in the process. It's all really great, pulpy stuff, but unfortunately it doesn't really rise above its pulp origins in any way other than unusual weirdness. Barrymore is great, though - as is my immortal beloved Maureen O'Sullivan in a thankless role as his long-suffering daughter. And I love Rafaela Ottiano too - especially the way she says "small."