Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Walter Huston is the Devil and Edward Arnold is Daniel Webster in "The Devil and Daniel Webster"

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) is a film fantasy based on the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet by the same name. The film was directed by William Dieterle and starred an all-star cast featuring Walter Huston, Edward Arnold, James Craig, Anne Shirley, Jane Darwell, Simone Simon, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, and H. B. Warner.

In New Hampshire in 1840, Jabez Stone (Craig), a poor farmer, is beset with hard times and bad luck. At the end of his rope, he says that he would sell his soul to the devil for two cents. Before you know it, a man calling himself Mr. Scratch appears. Scratch tells Jabez if he sells his soul, he will have seven years of good luck and prosperity. Jabez tempted by wealth and an easier life, signs a contract with scratch.

After several years, things change for Jabez. He becomes one of the wealthiest men in his village and his success never ends. During this time, he becomes friends with Daniel Webster (Arnold), the celebrated congressman, lawyer, and speaker. He and his wife Mary (Shirley) have a son and name him Daniel in honor of Mr. Webster.

As the seven years end, Jabez tries to negotiate with Scratch to extend their contract. In the meantime, Jabez’s marriage begins to crumble and Scratch knows he has the upper hand. Scratch agrees to extend the contract in exchange for Jabez’s son. Jabez refuses and turns to Webster to help him get out of his bargain with the Devil.

What transpires is an amazing court case featuring some of the most notorious historical figures as the jury.

How will the trial turn out? Will Jazez be set free from the clutches of Mr. Scratch or will he be forced to honor his original contract?

Edward Arnold, James Craig, and Walter Huston 

William Dieterle (1893 – 1972) was a German-born actor and film director. Dieterle emigrated to the United States in 1930 and acted in German-language films made in Hollywood for a time. He eventually worked his way up to director. He directed the 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, Dick Powell, and an 18-year-old Olivia de Havilland. Dieterle directed Paul Muni to a Best Actor win for his title role in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936). He directed Muni again in another biographical film, The Life of Emile Zola (1937). The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Joseph Schildkraut, and Best Screenplay. Dieterle lost the award for Best Director to Leo McCarey. This was Dieterle’s one and only Oscar nomination. His other films include Juarez (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Dr. Ehrlich’s Magin Bullet (1940), and A Dispatch from Reuters (1940).


The Devil and Daniel Webster trivia

  • The was released as All That Money Can Buy so it wouldn’t be confused with The Devil and Miss Jones, also released in 1941.
  • Bernard Herrmann won an Academy Award for his scoring of the film. He was also nominated for the film score of Citizen Kane that same year.
  • Robert Wise (The Sound of Music), who would later go on to direct, was the editor of the film.
  • Thomas Mitchell was originally cast as Daniel Webster but had to be replaced due to an accident on the set that resulted in a fractured skull.
  • Anne Shirley said that everyone involved in the production believed they were making a great film.

James Craig and Anne Shirley

Click HERE to watch the film on YouTube.


Click HERE to join the discussion online on February 19, 2024, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link to join the discussion on Zoom.


Discussion questions

  1. Walter Huston was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Do you think he deserved it? What did you think of his performance?
  2. Was Edward Arnold as Daniel Webster a good match for Huston’s Mr. Scratch?
  3. What about the other cast members? The cast includes some very well-known character actors. Do you have a favorite?
  4. The film was praised for its production values when it was first released. Does it hold up in the 21st century?
  5. The film score won an Academy Award for Bernard Herrmann. Do you think the score added to the mood of the film? 
  6. Although the film was met with rave reviews when it was released, the public didn’t show up at the box office. Why do you think the film wasn’t a financial success?

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