Monday, February 03, 2003


A Tod Browning misfire, without the saving grace of DRACULA'S spooky atmosphere or the novelty of FREAKS. Still, its unusual plot does hold some interest. Lionel Barrymore is Paul Lavond, a French businessman who has been wrongly imprisoned for 15 years on embezzlement charges, framed by three of his associates. He escapes from Devil's Island with the old and weak Marcel (Henry B. Walthall) and they wind up in Marcel's swampy shack where his wife (Rafaela Ottiano) has been carrying on Marcel's experiments in miniaturizing living things (mostly dogs). Marcel dies but not before they successfully shink a half-wit servant (Grace Ford). Barrymore and Ottiano go to Paris; he adopts the disguise of a kindly old woman who makes dolls, and plans to use the miniaturizing technique to gets his revenge against his associates. He does get his revenge and the last victim confesses, clearing Barrymore's name. Along the way, Barrymore (in old lady drag) strikes up a friendship with his daughter (Maureen O'Sullivan) who has never really known him. Barrymore commits crimes in the name of righteousness and isn't caught, but he does sacrifice a full relationship with his daughter, and it's possible that he eventually plans to kill himself. The tone of the film is odd--part horror, part fantasy, part thriller, but at heart, it's a sentimental reconciliation tale (with a romantic Eiffel Tower climax). There are elements of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; besides the tone and the miniature people, Ottiano has a Lanchesterish shock of white hair. The effects are good for their day, especially in a scene where a shrunken girl who has been posing as a doll creeps out of someone's hand to commit mayhem. Barrymore in drag seems to be having a lot of fun, and indeed he is the main reason to watch. Loosely based on A. Merritt's "Burn Witch Burn" (no connection to the fine 50's film of that title) and a voodoo story by Browning. An interesting curio of a movie.

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