The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

devil and daniel webster poster 1941 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Nice solid movie that stands the test of time

Wish the Daniel Webster character had been more incorporated throughout the story

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Devil and Daniel Webster

Studio:  William Dieterle Productions

Genre(s): Drama/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s): October 17, 1941

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

devil and daniel webster simone simon james craig

The Devil gets you anything!

Jabez Stone (James Craig) is a hardworking New Hampshire farmer who is down on his luck.  With a failing farm, Jabez can barely support his wife Mary (Anne Shirley) and his mother (Jane Darwell).  In a moment of desperation, Jabez offers his soul for the money he needs to survive…and the Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) decides to take him up on his offer.  Now, Jabez has everything he could ask for and the people of his town turning to him for help.  The Devil is coming for Jabez and Jabez’s only hope could be in the form of famed attorney Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold).

Directed by William Dieterle, The Devil and Daniel Webster is a drama-fantasy.  The film is an adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 short story which was published in The Saturday Evening Post (October 24, 1936) and was initially retitled All That Money Can Buy to avoid connections to the Devil and a similarly titled 1941 film The Devil and Miss Jones.  The film won an Academy Award for Bernard Hermann for Best Original Scoring of a Dramatic Picture with a nomination for Best Actor (Huston).  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #214).

devil and daniel webster jury trial

A trial for a soul

Occasionally, I’ll go to the library and glance through titles of movies to see what I haven’t seen.  I often land on Criterion due to their distinctive spine and I had meant to see The Devil and Daniel Webster for years.  Watching the film, it has that classic feel you’d expect from a film of the time and is still a spirited piece.

The movie and story is essentially a retelling of Faust with a proclamation for the values of America.  Jabez is a good man who goes down the wrong path.  He rejects God and in turn rejects his wife and family.  This turns Jabez from a good man into a man who no moral compass.  He becomes everything he hated, but he realizes through fear and regret what he’s done.  The movie then turns to a story of redemption by having Daniel Webster argue his case to some of the biggest traitors in American history.  It is an odd turn and exemplifies the idea that America is a place for second chances (while at the same time acknowledging that mistakes were made involving Native American and also slavery).

The cast is strong.  You have James Craig as essentially the film’s lead although Edward Arnold and Walter Huston received bigger billing.  Arnold replaced Thomas Mitchell who was injured while shooting the carriage scene and feels like he is barely part of the story until the end.  Huston’s Scratch is a lot of fun and conniving with a good wink and a nod as he selects people from the audience as his next “victim” at the end.  I also like Simone Simon as the “temptress” who is brought in to woo Craig away from his kind (and extremely understanding) wife played by Anne Shirley.

devil and daniel webster scratch walter huston ending

Mr. Scratch is coming for you next!

The movie also plays a lot with visuals for a movie from 1941.  The film often goes into a surreal, fantasy style which amplifies that what Jabez’s bargain has done has created something unholy.  Scenes like the dancing phantoms (which resembles Carnival of Souls) are extremely atmospheric, and the whole trial has a muted blurred look to it.

The Devil and Daniel Webster is a good film that feels even older than it is.  When compared to some of the film’s contemporaries, the movie feels a bit quaint, but its message still is strong.  The older setting gives it a timeless feel and the lack of many stylized special effects also keeps it from aging poorly.  For years the film was hacked up and cut, and it is nice to be seen at its proper length and classy look…seek it out!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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