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)