The Devil and Daniel Webster (film)

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The Devil and Daniel Webster
The devil and daniel webster DVD.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by William Dieterle
Written by Dan Totheroh
Stephen Vincent Benét
Starring Edward Arnold
Walter Huston
James Craig
Anne Shirley
Jane Darwell
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Joseph H. August
Edited by Robert Wise
Distributed by RKO (US theatrical)
Criterion (Region 1 DVD)
Release date(s)
  • October 17, 1941 (1941-10-17) (U.S.)
Running time 107 mins (full version)
85 mins (cut version)
Country United States
Language English

The Devil and Daniel Webster is a 1941 fantasy film, adapted by Stephen Vincent Benét and Dan Totheroh from Benét's short story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster". The film's title was changed to All That Money Can Buy to avoid confusion with another film released by RKO that year, The Devil and Miss Jones, and later had the title restored on some prints. It has also been released under the titles Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil and Here Is a Man. The film stars Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, and James Craig. It was directed by William Dieterle.

Plot[edit]

In 1840 New Hampshire, poor, downtrodden farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig) sells his soul to "Mr. Scratch" (Walter Huston) in return for seven years of luck and prosperity. He begins to change. When only his crops are spared from a hailstorm, he ensnares his desperate neighbors with onerous financial contracts and alienates his loving wife Mary (Anne Shirley) and his mother (Jane Darwell). The beautiful Belle (Simone Simon) is sent by Mr. Scratch to replace a household servant. She soon entrances Jabez. Jabez's young son Daniel falls under her influence as well, turning into a spoiled, disobedient boy.

With his time almost up, Stone begs famed orator and fellow New Hampshirite Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to find some way out of his bargain with the Devil. Webster agrees to take his case. Mr. Scratch offers an extension in exchange for Jabez's son, but Jabez turns him down. He then begs Webster to leave before it is too late, but Webster refuses to go, boasting that he has never left a jug or a case half finished.

When Mr. Scratch shows up to claim his due, Webster has to risk his own soul before his fiendish opponent will agree to a trial by jury. Mr. Scratch chooses the jury members from among the most notoriously evil men of American history, with John Hathorne (one of the magistrates of the Salem witch trials) as the judge. When Webster protests, Mr. Scratch points out that they were "Americans all."

With his own soul at risk, Daniel Webster proceeds to defend Jabez Stone who is accused of breaching contract. He begins by stating that he envies the jury because as Americans they were present at the birth of a nation, part of a heritage they were born to share. Unfortunately, they were fooled like Jabez Stone, trapped in their desire to rebel against their fate, but what would they give to be given another chance?

Webster explains that it is the eternal right of everyone, including the jury, to raise their fists against their fates, but when that happens, one finds oneself at a crossroads. They took the wrong turn just as Stone did, but he found out in time, and this night he is there to save his soul. Daniel asks the jury to give Stone another chance to walk upon the earth, for what would they give to see those things they remember? They were all men once, breathing clean American air, which was free and blew across the earth they loved.

Daniel starts to orate on all of simple and good things – "the freshness of a fine morning ... the taste of food when you're hungry ... the new day that's every day when you're a child" – and how without the soul, those things are sickened. He reminds the jury that Mr. Scratch said your soul meant nothing, they believed him, and they lost their freedom.

Now Webster orates on freedom as not just a big word: "It is the morning, the bread, and the risen sun," it was the reason for making the voyage to come to America. Mistakes were made, but out of things wrong and right a new thing has come: a free man with a freedom that includes his own soul. Yet how can the jury be on the side of the oppressor, when Stone is a brother, a fellow American?

Webster then implores the jury to let Stone keep his soul, which, after all, doesn't belong to him alone, but to his family and country. "Don't let the country go to the devil," thunders Daniel Webster. "Free Stone."

With his defense, Webster is able to talk the jury into releasing Stone from his deal. Webster then kicks Mr. Scratch out, but the fiend promises that Webster will never fulfill his ambition to become President of the United States.

Cast[edit]

Poster for the re-release

Adaptation[edit]

The jury of the damned in the film is slightly altered from the original, as revealed in the following dialogue:

Scratch: Captain Kidd, he killed men for gold. Simon Girty, the renegade; he burned men for gold. Governor Dale, he broke men on the wheel. Asa, the Black Monk, he choked them to death. Floyd Ireson and Stede Bonnet, the fiendish butchers. Walter Butler, the king of the massacre. Big and Little Harp, robbers and murderers. Teach, the cutthroat. Morton, the vicious lawyer. And General Benedict Arnold, you remember him, no doubt.
Webster: A jury of the damned.
Scratch: Dastards, liars, traitors, knaves.
Webster: This is monstrous.
Scratch: You asked for a jury trial, Mr Webster. Your suggestion – the quick or the dead.
Webster: I asked for a fair trial.
Scratch: Americans all.

In the original story, Webster regrets Benedict Arnold's absence, but in the film, he is present and Webster objects, citing him as a traitor and therefore not a true American. His objection is dismissed by the judge.

Alternative versions[edit]

The original release was 107 minutes long. It was a critical, but not a box-office, success, recording a loss of $53,000 on its initial run.[1] It was subsequently re-released under the title The Devil and Daniel Webster with nearly half an hour cut, reducing the film to 85 minutes. The cuts were crudely done. The film was restored to its full length in the 1990s and has been issued in that form on home video. However, the title has remained The Devil and Daniel Webster. The restored portions on the video had been taken from inferior prints of the movie, but the quality has been notably improved on the DVD release. A preview print titled Here Is a Man was found in the estate of the director and served as the basis for the film's restoration and DVD release.

Awards[edit]

Bernard Herrmann won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture and Walter Huston was nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor. In addition to his original music score, Herrmann also incorporated several traditional folk tunes including, "Devil's Dream", "Springfield Mountain", and a diabolical version of "Pop Goes The Weasel" played on the fiddle by Mr. Scratch.[2]

The film was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Fantasy Films list.[3]

Use in popular culture[edit]

The Simpsons Halloween "Treehouse of Horror IV" episode features the segment "The Devil And Homer Simpson", in which Homer sells his soul to the Devil (Ned Flanders) for a donut and subsequently must face trial at the stroke of midnight after accidentally eating the last piece of donut; One of the members of the jury is Blackbeard. The song "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival was inspired after John Fogerty was watching the hurricane scene from the film.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p166
  2. ^ Smith, Steven C (1991). A Heart At Heart's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. University of California Press. p. 86. ISBN 0-520-07123-9. 
  3. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot

External links[edit]