Tod Brownings great collaborator of the silent era was Lon Chaney [Sr]. Chaney always gave grand performances where he would undergo amazing physical transformations and complete character shifts. These performances were always at the centre of Tod Brownings silent films. However, Chaney died in 1930 and afterwards Browning seemed to lack such a collaborator. He did luck upon Bela Lugosi in Dracula. In The Devil-Doll, he used Lionel Barrymore, one of the great Broadway actors of the decade. Lionel Barrymore gives Tod Browning the nearest to another Chaney performance that he would ever find again, wherein he undergoes a great chameleon shift in playing the part of an old woman.
Outside of Lionel Barrymore though, the story of The Devil-Doll is slight and melodramatic (as was often the case with Tod Brownings films). The other notable aspect is the effects set-pieces. The effects are variable but at least Browning sets up some good set-pieces with the miniature people climbing onto dressers to steal jewelry and up a sleeping persons peignoir to kill them.
The Devil-Doll is often reviewed as a science-fiction film. In truth though, Tod Browning has almost no interest in science-fiction (even less than other mad scientist films from the era). If The Devil-Doll is a mad scientist film, it is one based more in alchemy than it is in science. Coulters grand claim that we can shrink the world on the theory that it will eliminate hunger is absurd. (One is not even sure if he means shrinking just people or all animal species. Reducing all animal species simply reduces the size not the ratio of humans to animal species; reducing all people would surely turn everybody into the prey of now giant-sized animals). Certainly, Lionel Barrymores character is portrayed a good deal more sympathetically than any other mad scientist of the era.
The Devil-Doll was adapted from a novel by Abraham Merritt, a popular writer of dark fantasy during the 1920s, with works such as The Moon Pool (1919), The Metal Monster (1920), The Ship of Ishtar (1926) and Seven Footprints to Satan (1928), which was also filmed as Seven Footprints to Satan (1929). The film is liberally adapted from Merritts witchcraft novel Burn, Witch, Burn (1933).
The Devil-Doll should not be confused with the later British horror film Devil Doll (1964) about a sinister hypnotist.