The Devil Commands (1941)

65-66 mins | Horror | 3 February 1941

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Edge of Running Water. ...

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The working title of this film was Edge of Running Water.

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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Feb 1941
---
Daily Variety
22 Apr 1941
---
Film Daily
14 Feb 1941
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 1940
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 1941
p. 3
Motion Picture Herald
22 Feb 1941
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 Mar 1941
p. 88
New York Times
14 Feb 1941
p. 15
Variety
19 Feb 1941
p. 16
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Edge of Running Water
Release Date:
3 February 1941
Production Date:
22 Nov--7 Dec 1940
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp.
10 February 1941
LP10253
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
65-66
Length(in feet):
5,798
Country:
United States
SYNOPSIS

Anne Blair relates the following story of how her father's name came to evoke fear in the people living in the small New England town of Barsham Harbor: Seven years earlier, Anne's father, Dr. Julian Blair, was a respected scientist and the head of a science department at a large university. One stormy night, Blair assembles Dr. Richard Sayles and four other scientists in his lab to demonstrate his latest theory that each human brain emits fingerprint- like brain waves. When Helen, Blair's wife, interrupts the demonstration to remind her husband that it is time to pick up Anne at the train station, the doctor enlists her as a subject, hooks her up to his electrical machine and traces her brain waves on the screen. After completing the experiment, the doctor and his wife leave for the station. Along the way, they stop to pick up a cake to celebrate Anne's birthday, and while the doctor runs into the bakery, Helen drives around the block and is fatally injured in a car accident. After Helen's funeral, the doctor, inconsolable over the loss of his wife, aimlessly turns on his brain wave machine and sees Helen's waves on the screen, which he thinks indicate that his wife has come back to him. When his fellow scientists are skeptical of his claim that communication can be established between the living and the dead, Blair scornfully orders them out of his lab. Karl, a simpleminded friend of the family, remains behind, however, and tells the doctor about Mrs. Walters, a medium who can communicate with the dead. Intrigued, Blair accompanies Karl to a seánce, and although he ...

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Anne Blair relates the following story of how her father's name came to evoke fear in the people living in the small New England town of Barsham Harbor: Seven years earlier, Anne's father, Dr. Julian Blair, was a respected scientist and the head of a science department at a large university. One stormy night, Blair assembles Dr. Richard Sayles and four other scientists in his lab to demonstrate his latest theory that each human brain emits fingerprint- like brain waves. When Helen, Blair's wife, interrupts the demonstration to remind her husband that it is time to pick up Anne at the train station, the doctor enlists her as a subject, hooks her up to his electrical machine and traces her brain waves on the screen. After completing the experiment, the doctor and his wife leave for the station. Along the way, they stop to pick up a cake to celebrate Anne's birthday, and while the doctor runs into the bakery, Helen drives around the block and is fatally injured in a car accident. After Helen's funeral, the doctor, inconsolable over the loss of his wife, aimlessly turns on his brain wave machine and sees Helen's waves on the screen, which he thinks indicate that his wife has come back to him. When his fellow scientists are skeptical of his claim that communication can be established between the living and the dead, Blair scornfully orders them out of his lab. Karl, a simpleminded friend of the family, remains behind, however, and tells the doctor about Mrs. Walters, a medium who can communicate with the dead. Intrigued, Blair accompanies Karl to a seánce, and although he recognizes Mrs. Walters as a fake, he discovers that her brain emits high voltage electrical impulses that could act as a receptor for his departed wife's brain waves. The mercenary Mrs. Walters agrees to participate in the doctor's experiment for a fee, but when the experiment fails, Blair decides to add more power by hooking up Karl to the electrical circuit. Just as Helen's brain waves begin to appear on the screen, Karl collapses because the electrical current is too strong for his brain. Sensing that there is a fortune to be made if the doctor's experiments prove successful, Mrs. Walters proposes that they leave town with Karl and continue their work elsewhere. The next morning, Blair resigns from his post at the university, sends Anne away and moves to Barsham Harbor. When the doctor's secrecy creates fear and hate in the village, Sheriff Ed Willis comes to question him about the disappearance of five bodies from the local cemetery. After the doctor refuses to allow him to inspect his lab, the sheriff asks Mrs. Marcy, the doctor's housekeeper, to search the lab. The next day, Mrs. Marcy sneaks into the lab and finds five bodies encased in metal suits. When Karl unwittingly locks the door behind her, Mrs. Marcy panics and hits the electrical switches, thus causing a surge of energy that animates the bodies. By the time Blair reaches the lab, Mrs. Marcy is dead. Mrs. Walters takes the housekeeper's shoes and creates a path of footprints with them leading from the house to an oceanside cliff. When the sheriff, accompanied by Seth Marcy, the housekeeper's husband, comes to the house in search of Mrs. Marcy, the doctor claims that she has gone home. They then begin to search the countryside for her and follow the footprints laid by Mrs. Walters to the edge of the cliff. Refusing to believe that his wife plunged to her death from the cliff, Seth returns to town and publicly accuses the doctor of murder. Meanwhile, Anne, who has been summoned by the sheriff, arrives in town accompanied by Sayles. They proceed to the house and arrive just as the doctor is conducting another one of his experiments. When he hears Helen's voice calling to him, Blair increases the voltage to a level that kills Mrs. Walters. A pounding at the front door interrupts his experiment, and when he answers the door and sees Anne, Blair decides that she is the key to establishing a connection with Helen and tries to enlist Sayles in the experiment. Horrified, Sayles is about to leave the house with Anne when the doctor orders Karl to lock him up. As the doctor hooks up Anne to his corpse circuit, a frenzied mob, led by Seth, storms the house and heads for the lab. When he hears Helen's voice, Blair increases the voltage, causing the electromagnetic field to become so intense that it topples the house and kills the doctor. Freed, Sayles then runs to the lab and unshackles Anne from her iron suit.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.