Falsely convicted Lionel Barrymore escapes from Devil's Island with fellow prisoner H.B. Walthall. A brilliant scientist, Walthall reveals to Barrymore that he has developed a process to shrink human beings. Upon Walthall's death, Barrymore makes his way back to the old scientist's lab, intending to use Walthall's formula to exact vengeance on those who have wronged him. He does so, clearing his name and securing the future happiness of his daughter Maureen O'Sullivan (who believes that Barrymore is dead) in the process. But Barrymore's crazed assistant Rafaela Ottiano isn't satisfied. "We'll make the whole world small!" she hisses, forcing Barrymore to kill her and destroy the formula. To save his daughter from scandal, Barrymore disappears into the night, the implication being that he plans to commit suicide at the first opportunity. The excellent miniature work in The Devil Doll (much of it accomplished with outsized sets, a la the Laurel and Hardy comedy Brats) successfully takes the viewers' minds off the rather silly plot. Director Tod Browning was always stronger with atmosphere than with plot and dialogue, and this film is no exception. Far less logical than the miniaturization process is Barrymore's decision to disguise himself as an old woman, since this transparent guise wouldn't convince a 2-year-old in real life. Based on the novel Burn, Witch, Burn by Abraham Merritt, The Devil Doll was scripted by several hands, including Erich Von Stroheim.
by Hal Erickson synopsis