“We’ll make the whole world SMALL!”
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary also neglects to mention in his review how effective Barrymore is in the plum central role, as a righteously vengeful fugitive who spends most of his screen time in convincing cross-dress as “Madame Manderlip”; to that end, the make-up department on the film set deserves special mention as well. Also memorable (if a tad one-note in her performance) is “crazed” Ottiano, with a wild streak of white running through her hair, reminiscent of Elsa Lanchester’s iconic “bride of Frankenstein”. Her presence here is refreshing simply as one of cinema’s few female “mad scientists” — and her obsession with making all living creatures tiny borders on ludicrously campy, allowing for a surprising twist of tension in the final act of the film.
While the narrative gets bogged down occasionally by a sappy, Stella Dallas-esque backstory involving Barrymore’s attempts to befriend his estranged adult daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan), there are enough surreal, chilling elements throughout this memorable film to make it a minor cult classic. Film fanatics should take note that several of the story’s central elements are evident in both Browning and von Stroheim’s earlier efforts: Browning’s The Unholy Three (1925) featured Lon Chaney in drag as a wily old woman, for instance, while von Stroheim’s The Great Gabbo (1929) dealt with a human-like ventriloquist’s doll.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: