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The Devil Commands (1941)

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Ratings: 6.1/10 from 467 users  
Reviews: 28 user | 13 critic

Scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of communicating with his dead wife.



(screenplay), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Title: The Devil Commands (1941)

The Devil Commands (1941) on IMDb 6.1/10

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Complete credited cast:
Dr. Julian Blair
Richard Fiske ...
Dr. Richard Sayles
Amanda Duff ...
Anne Blair
Anne Revere ...
Mrs. Blanche Walters
Cy Schindell ...
Karl (as Ralph Penney)
Mrs. Marcy
Walter Baldwin ...
Seth Marcy
Kenneth MacDonald ...
Sheriff Ed Willis
Shirley Warde ...
Helen Blair


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 (

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


KARLOFF TURNS KILLER IN A HORROR-CRAMMED THRILLER! (original 11x14 title card) See more »


Horror | Sci-Fi






Release Date:

3 February 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Devil Commands  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Cy Schindell plays the role of Julian's hulking manservant Karl. He often used the name Al Seymour, but here is billed under the name Ralph Penney, for the only time in his career. See more »


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


[last lines]
Anne Blair: They say my father's spirit must still lives in that house. I don't know. When he seemed to be so close to what he sought, something reached for him - a warning that human beings must not try to reach beyond death! I don't know. No one will ever know, and yet perhaps the time will come when the door to infinity will open... perhaps... perhaps...
See more »


Featured in 100 Years of Horror: Mad Doctors (1996) See more »

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User Reviews

well-directed nuttiness with one unforgettable scene
4 September 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

As for another viewer, this film was deposited in my memory banks a generation ago. This morning (4 Sept 2007) the TCM screen stirred that memory, so I taped and replayed the conclusion. The content is thin but the film is short, at least for a grown-up. Karloff is splendid, perfectly absorbed as ever in his character. His role is well supported by the evil medium-familiar woman with regulation severely-pulled-back hair. Dmytryk's touch is in evidence already, as every scene is well composed and lighted.

But the reason why the film stuck in my aging memory, and the only reason for it to attract attention, is the stunningly realized seance scenes at the end. As other posters have described, this isn't just any seance: most of the participants have already crossed over, but they look bewitchingly cool sheathed in deco metal suits. (Another poster called them diving suits, but more like space suits you'd find on the covers of Amazing Tales in that era.) In classic seance style, all these suited bodies are seated around a table.

As in Frankenstein and so many other movies since, the action in the lab scene mostly involves turning up the juice, which pours through the whole interlinked seance, adding a lot of hypnotic background noise. (And can be defended historically, since Spiritualists often used electro-magnetic metaphors to describe their rapport.)

What happens then testifies to a lesson later film-makers probably can't re-learn: nothing is more suggestive than restraint. In two concluding scenes where Karloff finally gets the experiment up and running the way he planned, this well-built seance scenario comes to partial but mesmerizing life. A spinning vortex appears at the bodies' center. The voice of Karloff's dead wife breaks through in a grinding electronica: "Julian!"

Then a lovely, unpredictable action: the seance cadavers in their space suits move ever so slightly, bowing toward the vortex in a series of click-actions. Then, when the electricity ceases, they click back into upright postures. Just as the Karloff character hears his wife's voice, something strangely suggestive of life beyond death occurs. The scene lasts only seconds but is repeated for the mob-finale. It's like an Eric Clapton solo, where you're touched less by what is actually played than all that might have been played. The performance stops at its peak moment, launching the audience's imagination in a way that extensions of the scene could never have accomplished.

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