For Reel

The Devil Commands (1941)
September 7, 2014, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edward Dmytryk
3.5 Stars
The Devil CommandsConsidered the best of the five “mad doctor” films that Columbia produced with Boris Karloff in the late 30s/early 40s, The Devil Commands is an affecting melodrama that never cheapens the integrity of its tragic hero even as he goes off the deep end. Karloff gives a remarkably sensitive performance as Dr. Julian Blair, a scientist who creates a machine that records the unique brain waves of a human subject. When his wife tragically passes and his machine continues recording the brain waves that he recognizes to be hers, he is driven insane in his quest to communicate with her spirit. Even when Blair gets involved in corpse-stealing and carelessly uses his dangerous equipment on innocent subjects, he is still a recognizably weary, heart-broken man–in fact, a phony medium who becomes his partner (Anne Revere) is the true menacing horror staple, with a cold, determined intensity coming through while she stops at nothing to protect Blair. Director Edward Dmytryk uses some terrific visual effects (there’s a particularly creepy seance scene early on) and the isolated mansion where much of the film takes place is suitably chilling, but the consistent voiceover by Blair’s daughter (Amanda Duff) is a huge misstep, both in the writing and in the vocal performance.

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