6.2/10
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The Devil Commands (1941)

Approved | | Horror, Sci-Fi | 3 February 1941 (USA)
Scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of communicating with his dead wife.

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(screenplay) (as Robert D. Andrews), (screenplay)
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Cast

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Karl (as Ralph Penney)
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Mrs. Marcy
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Seth Marcy
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Sheriff Ed Willis
Shirley Warde ...
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Storyline

Dr. Julian Blair is engaged in unconventional research on human brain waves when his wife is tragically killed in a freak auto accident. The grief-stricken scientist becomes obsessed with redirecting his work into making contact with the dead and is not deterred by dire warnings from his daughter, his research assistant, or his colleagues that he is delving into forbidden areas of knowledge. He moves his laboratory to an isolated New England mansion where he continues to try to reach out to his dead wife. He is aided by his mentally-challenged servant Karl and abetted by the obsessive Mrs. Walters, a phony medium, who seems to exert a sinister influence over him. When their overly curious housekeeper discovers the truth about their experiments, her death brings the local sheriff in to investigate. Written by Gabe Taverney (duke1029@aol.com)

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Taglines:

This mad wizard kills at will in Satan's service! See more »

Genres:

Horror | Sci-Fi

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Release Date:

3 February 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Devil Said No  »

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Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Completed December 1940, released February 3, 1941. See more »

Goofs

Dr. Julian tells Mrs. Walters she had 10,000 volts pass through her body. Volts do not flow or pass, amps do. See more »

Quotes

Dr. Van Den: I know one thing, Julian - there are things human beings have no right to know!
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User Reviews

 
THE DEVIL COMMANDS (Edward Dmytryk, 1941) **1/2
9 September 2006 | by See all my reviews

A likable horror/sci-fi (given a catchpenny but utterly meaningless title!) tailor-made for its star – despite its naïve approach to the supernatural (what with the goofy laboratory equipment that's a cross between medieval torture devices and an underwater suit!). The Gothic trappings included in the narrative (mystery house, seances, brutish 'zombie' manservant) don't sit too well alongside the scientific paraphernalia and jargon – and actually cheapen the film, though not quite to the level of the contemporaneous Bela Lugosi vehicles made by Poverty Row studios!

Perhaps the most perplexing element in the film is the constant narration, which doesn't really serve any purpose: this was probably inspired by Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940) but also, curiously enough, ties it with the fatalistic voice-over that would soon become a film noir staple – and we all know what director Dmytryk achieved in that most influential subgenre (in fact, he's easily the best director with whom Karloff worked during his stay at Columbia – albeit in an early and, therefore, minor effort); here already, Dmytryk's proficiency for creating mood on a miniscule budget through careful lighting is well in evidence. By the way, I can't say for certain but the cliff setting from where Karloff and Anne Revere dispose of the body of the nosy maid may be the same that was utilized four years later for the climax of a marvelous Grade-B noir, MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), also a Columbia picture (and which I finally caught up with while in Hollywood early this year)!

Karloff is committed and persuasive as always as the scientist aching to communicate with his dear departed wife – a role which eerily predates many Peter Cushing would play in the 1970s (particularly following the death of his real-life wife!); however, the star is matched by co-star Revere as the domineering and vaguely sinister medium. As busy as the climax is, it's rather hurried: what with Karloff trying to convince his daughter's fiancé – conveniently, a scientist – of the fundamental value of his work but, failing to do so, has to knock him out before he can use his own daughter as guinea pig in his great experiment!; all the while, an angry torch-carrying mob (who seem to have stepped in from the set of some concurrent Universal production!) is hatching up a plan to stall Karloff's 'dangerous' research – but, as soon as they're about to storm the place, the whole edifice collapses around them (for reasons that are not entirely clear)!!

While the least effective of the three Karloffs I've just watched for the first time, it's not a bad effort all around – and I still look forward to his two remaining (and, oddly, similarly-titled) Columbia vehicles, namely THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939) and BEFORE I HANG (1940)…though I now know not to expect anything approaching the quality of his genuine classics from the Universal heyday!


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