Review: ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’

Material for the screenplay is taken from Stephen Vincent Benet's short story, an O. Henry prize-winner, and the author had a hand in the film version with Dan Totheroh.

Material for the screenplay is taken from Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, an O. Henry prize-winner, and the author had a hand in the film version with Dan Totheroh.

The locale is New Hampshire, in 1840, a background of muddy roads, Currier & Ives farm settings, and peopled with struggling American peasantry. The legend is about the rise, fall and regeneration of a young farmer, Jabez Stone, who is alleged to have sold his soul to the devil for a pittance of gold and seven years of good luck. It’s a twist on the Faust theme, but Benet isn’t Goethe.

James Craig plays the youth who discovers that crime doesn’t pay. He is a quite capable young actor, of pleasing appearance. Anne Shirley is the wife, who gets all the worst of it, and Jane Darwell is the rock-bound New England mother.

Trouble for Dieterle (and the audience) starts when Walter Huston appears on the scene via double-exposure and whispers beguiling temptations into the ear of the young husband-farmer. That’s when gold coins appear from strange places and the boy pays off the mortgage. From there to the finish it’s mostly symbols and morality play.

[Pic was previewed under the title Here Is a Man.]

1941: Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture.

Nomination: Best Actor (Walter Huston)

The Devil and Daniel Webster

Production

RKO. Director William Dieterle; Producer William Dieterle; Screenplay Dan Totheroh, Stephen Vincent Benet; Camera Joseph August; Editor Robert Wise; Music Bernard Herrmann; Art Director Van Nest Polglase

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1941. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Edward Arnold Walter Huston Jane Darwell Simone Simon Anne Shirley John Qualen
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