Boris Karloff stars in the appropriately moody horror-suspense-science fiction menagerie called The Devil Commands. Made in 1941, it was a perfect fit for the actor who had just starred in some of the best horror movies ever made up until this time including Frankenstein and The Mummy and it would see him not as a monster this go-round but as a man although one not altogether there. Directed by Edward Dmytryk for Columbia, it is a tense and wonderful little film that seems to have slipped itself in between the cracks of Karloff’s Universal offerings.
Karloff plays Dr. Julian Blair, a man who has created a machine to map the brainwaves in people or patients and it is the culmination of his life’s work. After a tragic accident that leaves his wife for dead, Blair retreats to his lab not being able to go home to an empty house for fear of facing both his family and his grief head-on as it were. It is there that he gets the idea to use his machine to contact the dead, specifically his dearly departed bride. With the help of a medium, and for fear of being committed to an asylum, Blair retreats from society to continue his experiments in private. Soon, his actions start to become circumspect with the locals and everything in his world collides together before the picture finally ends.
Coming in at a little less than sixty-five minutes long, the film is tight and precise with no wasted moments. The science of course is laughable in this day and age, but when put into context which one must do to enjoy such a movie, it is really quite brilliant. Blair of course has gone insane with his longing turned into an obsession and his grief into recklessness. Karloff plays his role to perfection as the mad doctor, having the look and the acting skills to do as such while the supporting cast which includes Richard Fiske and Amanda Duff do their parts justice as well, complimenting Karloff at every turn.
While not the scariest of horror films nor the best that science-fiction would ever have to offer on film either, The Devil Commands is a great little movie that does not rely too heavily on special effects, but on the actors to create the mood and the environment of the film and to make it as believable for the audience as they possibly can. As such, the picture succeeded in doing so and it is a small gem in Karloff’s catalogue that is worth revisiting or seeing for the first time.