We saw The Devil Doll by the incomparable Tod Browning today. I am a big fan of Browning’s Freaks, and this is the third film I’ve seen by him. Its got a bizarre premise: A man wronged by his partners seeks to revenge himself by using people shrunk to a doll’s size who do his bidding.
I suppose there is something pure about revenge. One is willing to believe that a character can think of nothing else but revenge for seventeen years, and the Gods or in the movie’s case, a mad scientist will send an instrument along for the purposes of justice. He seems to have been among the early directors who used double exposure in his films (A technique pioneered by Melies) and the film is a wonderful example of this technique. Devil Doll has a great performance by Lionel Barrymore as a transvestite avenger. The film’s merry disregard for realism and its grotesque flair are vintage Browning.
Wikipedia has a good entry on Browning, including an account of his last years, which were spent in seclusion, he even refused to meet family member’s at his brother’s funeral. I also found an odd site, which has a copy of his death certificate and a picture of his gravestone. Browning was born in 1880 and really did run away from home to join a circus, unlike Fellini who claims he did. And you can tell the difference. Browning is at home with his carnies and “freaks” and doesn’t actually dwell on their grotesquerie, unlike Fellini whose circus freaks are usually outside the the main character’s self, and become images of their internal dialogues.