All That Money Can Buy


1h 52m 1941
All That Money Can Buy

Brief Synopsis

A farmer sells his soul for seven years of good crops.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Certain Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil, The Devil and Daniel Webster
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Fantasy
Release Date
Oct 17, 1941
Premiere Information
San Francisco premiere: 29 Oct 1941
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benét in The Saturday Evening Post (24 Oct 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 52m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,545ft

Synopsis

In 1840, in the town of Cross Corners, New Hampshire, the words of Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster stir the farmers to organize a Grange movement to defend against the loan sharks threatening their lands. One victim of the creditors is Jabez Stone, who is in danger of losing his farm to Miser Stevens unless he can raise the money to pay his mortgage. When, in a moment of despair, Jabez offers to sell his soul to the devil, Mr. Scratch strolls out of the mist and offers the farmer seven years of prosperity in exchange for his soul. Jabez accepts the bargain, and the devil sears the date 7 Apr 1847 into a tree to commemorate their contract. With his newly found wealth, Jabez pays Stevens, purchases supplies and lends money to his fellow farmers to buy seed. When Webster comes to town, dogged by Mr. Scratch, Jabez delivers a speech in support of the politician, thus winning acclaim from the townsfolk. After his wife Mary becomes pregnant, Jabez tries to chop down the ominous tree, but Scratch warns him that that would constitute a breach of contract and invokes a hailstorm that destroys all the crops except Jabez's. The farmers begin to resent Jabez when he offers to pay them to harvest his crops, but destitute, they accept his wages. On the night of the harvest dance, Jabez's son is born and christened Daniel after his godfather, Daniel Webster. The birth is followed by the arrival of Belle, Scratch's bewitching emissary, who claims to be the baby's new nurse. Seven years pass, during which time Jabez has come to value only money, prompting Mary to visit Webster and confide her unhappiness. Webster offers to speak to Jabez and accompanies Mary to Cross Corners, arriving on the night that Jabez has planned an ostentacious party to flaunt his luxurious new house. While Jabez awaits his guests, the farmers air their grievances about him to Webster. Mary, who is still living in their modest old homestead with Jabez's mother, attends the party and is confronted by Belle, who commands her to leave. Stevens is the next arrival, and he sorrowfully confides to Jabez that he, too, shares a pact with Scratch. Belle's otherworldly guests then arrive, followed by Webster, who lectures Jabez about taking advantage of the farmers. After Jabez angrily orders both Mary and Webster from his house, Scratch appears with the soul of Stevens neatly encompassed by his kerchief. When Scratch offers to extend Jabez's contract in exchange for his son, the farmer scurries after Webster and pleads for his help. Webster agrees to defend Jabez against the devil, and they return to the barn to meet Scratch at the midnight deadline. At twelve o'clock, Scratch appears and Webster argues that Jabez, as an American citizen, has the right to a jury trial. Scratch consents, but insists upon choosing the jury, summoning Captain Kidd, Benedict Arnold, Simon Girty and nine other traitors. Justice Hawthorne of the Salem witch trials allows Webster to argue his case on the condition that he surrender his soul to the devil if he loses. In Jabez's defense, Webster appeals to the jury's Americanism and their belief in its principle of freedom and suggests that they forfeited their freedom to the devil. Webster concludes that they may redeem some of their lost freedom by pardoning Jabez. Webster wins his case, and as the jury tears up Jabez's contract with the devil, the new house bursts into flames. After Mary and Jabez embrace, Jabez forgives the farmers' debts and joins the Grange. With his deal with Jabez overturned, Scratch turns his sights toward the audience.

Photo Collections

The Devil and Daniel Webster - Movie Poster
Here is the Window Card from RKO's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941, released as All That Money Can Buy). Window Cards were 14x22 mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation.

Film Details

Also Known As
A Certain Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil, The Devil and Daniel Webster
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Fantasy
Release Date
Oct 17, 1941
Premiere Information
San Francisco premiere: 29 Oct 1941
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benét in The Saturday Evening Post (24 Oct 1936).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 52m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,545ft

Award Wins

Best Music Original Dramatic Score

1942

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1941
Walter Huston

Articles

The Devil and Daniel Webster aka All That Money Can Buy


Director William Dieterle's star power had risen high after the success of RKO's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), starring Charles Laughton. As had many directors before him, Dieterle sought to gain further control over the pictures he helmed. He formed his own production company and set up an exclusive deal with RKO. For his first picture under the agreement, the director chose to adapt a well known short story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benet. Dieterle followed a bit of conventional Hollywood wisdom in adapting a proven pre-existing property, but the inclination to "play it safe" with the film ended there. In making the movie Dieterle utilized unconventional casting, several innovative techniques in music and cinematography, and crafted a story with a potentially uncommercial mix of homespun folksiness and bone-chilling creepiness. Critics and audiences at the time seemed more perplexed than admiring, and it has taken some distance of time for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941 - aka All That Money Can Buy) to be recognized as not only one of Dieterle's greatest films, but one of the most daring, powerful, and idiosyncratic movies to come out during the height of the Hollywood studio system.

Stephen Vincent Benet's story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" was first published in 1936, in the Saturday Evening Post, and became a great popular success - a purely American fable that seemed instantly to enter into the same realm of folklore as older works such as those of Washington Irving. In his biography of the writer, Parry Stroud quotes Benet on the genesis of the story: "It always seemed to me... that legends and yarns and folktales are as much a part of the real history of a country as proclamations and provisos and constitutional amendments... I couldn't help trying to show [Daniel Webster] in terms of American legend; I couldn't help wondering what would happen if a man like that ever came to grips with the Devil - and not an imported Devil, either, but a genuine, homegrown product, Mr. Scratch." As Stroud observed about the story, "From one point of view 'The Devil and Daniel Webster' is a reworking in American terms of the biblical story of Job and the Faust legend," though Benet's protagonist "...sells his soul to the Devil, not for power, like the German, but for the American dream of prosperity." This folksy, American take on the legend struck a chord with 1930s readers; the story won the O. Henry Award as the year's best short story, and it was soon adapted for both the radio and the stage.

Benet himself worked on the screenplay for the movie, along with Dan Totheroh, a writer that had earlier adapted popular books for the screen, resulting in films such as The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1934). The final screenplay added one major character to Benet's story (a bewitching female emissary of the Devil), but remained largely faithful to the original. In 1840 in the town of Cross Corners, New Hampshire, the local farmers are talking of organizing a Grange movement to combat the crooked creditors, such as Miser Stevens (John Qualen). Jabez Stone (James Craig) is in danger of losing his farm and homestead where he lives with his mother (Jane Darwell) and his new wife, Mary (Anne Shirley). Stone seems to have nothing but bad luck, and in a burst of frustration exclaims that he'd sell his soul for a bit of good luck. At that instant, a Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) strolls out of mist in Stone's barn and offers seven years of prosperity to the farmer in exchange for his soul. Stone accepts the deal and uncovers a bag of gold coins beneath the boards in the barn. In the coming years, the farmer becomes wealthy, but often at the expense of his friends, who depend on Stone for seed for their crops. Stone also goes to great lengths to ally himself with the renowned Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold). When Mary gives birth to a son, Belle (Simone Simon) arrives as a nurse; actually, though, she is an emissary of Scratch who beguiles Stone and drives him further from his family. As Stone's seven years of prosperity is coming to an end, Scratch backs Stone into a corner and the farmer seeks to break his contract. This results in a trail of the Damned, as Webster defends Stone before a jury of American villains and traitors chosen by Scratch.

Fortunately for Dieterle, RKO was then being run by George Schaeffer, who encouraged artistic innovation during his brief tenure as studio head. Orson Welles had completed Citizen Kane (1941) just a few months earlier, and many of the key production personnel from that film transferred straight to the Dieterle production, which began in March of 1941. Among the shared personnel were film editor Robert Wise, effects technician Vernon L. Walker, art director Van Nest Polglase, and most prominently, music composer Bernard Herrmann. Although it was only his second motion picture score, Herrmann was familiar with the material, having done the music for the radio adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster performed for the CBS Workshop series. As had been the case with Kane, Herrmann was also afforded the luxury of writing his score as the film was being shot, rather than after filming and editing, as was the industry standard. His work is considered to be one of the best scores of his career, mixing everything from quotations of standard folk tunes to experimental electronic tones. To achieve the maniacal fiddle playing of Mr. Scratch in the barn dance scene, Herrmann recorded four takes of a single violin playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" in slightly different styles; he then layered the four recordings to sound like a single player hitting an impossible sequence of notes. Herrmann would go on to win an Oscar for his score - surprisingly, it would be the only Academy Award win of his career.

The Devil and Daniel Webster provides Walter Huston with one of the best roles of his career; he earned an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable turn as Mr. Scratch, a wily Earth-bound personification of The Devil - as smug in his satisfaction at stealing a pie as he is in stealing a soul. The movie also provided another noble role for the always-dependable Jane Darwell, fresh from her Oscar win as the Joad family matriarch in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Another showcase part that the movie provided was Belle, the sultry ethereal figure that Mr. Scratch sends to keep Jabez enthralled and apart from his wife. For this part Dieterle cast French actress Simone Simon, who had made an earlier batch of American films, including the lead role in Seventh Heaven (1937) with James Stewart. The matter of Simon's accent is deftly handled in The Devil and Daniel Webster; when asked by a neighboring farmer if she is French, Simon's Belle answers "I'm not anything" - the perfect response for a character that initially emerges through a whirl of smoke. It was on the strength of this appearance that producer Val Lewton cast Simon in the lead of his initial RKO horror film, The Cat People (1942). For the key role of Daniel Webster himself, Dieterle had cast Thomas Mitchell, one of the most recognizable character actors of the day. In 1939 alone, Mitchell could be seen in landmarks like Stagecoach, Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind, and Dieterle's own The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Dieterle chose to film The Devil and Daniel Webster in an almost sequential fashion, and the entire production was nearly derailed by an accident that occurred six weeks into shooting. On April 21st, 1941, while filming the carriage scene in which Thomas Mitchell as Daniel Webster is giving a ride to Jabez's young son, the horses lurched and Mitchell was thrown from the carriage. He suffered a skull fracture and was laid up for weeks - with the key trial sequence yet to be shot, he had to be replaced in the role immediately. Edward Arnold stepped into the part, and the great majority of Mitchell's previously-filmed scenes had to be reshot. (A few long shots of Mitchell were retained).

RKO had fits over the title of their film; they did not want to use the title of the original story for fear that audiences would shy away from a period piece. Several substitutes prior to release included Temptation, It Can Happen to You, and A Certain Mr. Scratch. The film was previewed (in July of 1941) under the title Here Is a Man, but the final release title (in October of 1941) was All That Money Can Buy, and it was under this name that the film was shown for many years.

Reviews were generally good, even if the reviewers were sometimes perplexed. The writer for TIME magazine says the film is "definitely superior cinema" and has high praise for the actors, saying that "Dieterle wisely lets Actor Arnold play Daniel Webster without trying to look like the great man. His Webster is not the violent Massachusetts statesman but a homely, gusty humanitarian.... Walter Huston plays the Devil with demoniacal glee. Disguised as Mr. Scratch, a quizzical Yankee trader with a duck hunter's cap, bristly sideburns and stubble beard, he is a puckish tempter. Whether he is getting Daniel plastered, playing the bass drum in the village band, or spryly nibbling a carrot, he seems to be hugely enjoying his part."

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found the film to be "pleasantly provocative and slyly humorous" but Crowther complains that "...Mr. Dieterle has failed to bring into related focus before our eyes that which is supposed to be real and that which is supernatural. The illusion of imaginative release is not properly created, so that one is likely to be confused by the constant interplay of shadow and substance without any explanations." This constant interplay which Crowther found so confusing is commonplace in modern films and television, so the style that Dieterle fashioned now lends The Devil and Daniel Webster a fresh, undated look to viewers today.

The Devil and Daniel Webster did not perform well at the box-office; it lost between $35,000 and $50,000 for RKO. Unfortunately, it may have broken even but for the cost overruns incurred by the need to reshoot many scenes following Thomas Mitchell's accident. For a reissue in 1952 (by Astor Pictures), the film was cut from 107 minutes to a running time of 85 minutes, losing many important scenes of character development. The 85 minute cut was the only available version for many years; fortunately a restoration was possible using a print that Dieterle himself had kept, and the full edit is now readily available.

Producer David O. Selznick must have admired The Devil and Daniel Webster; in 1948 he began production on a film version of the Robert Nathan fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1949), and he hired director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph August to approximate the look of the earlier film. Selznick also utilized Bernard Herrmann, who wrote "Jennie's theme" prior to the start of principal photography.

Producer: William Dieterle
Director: William Dieterle
Screenplay: Dan Totheroh; Stephen Vincent Benet (screenplay and story)
Cinematography: Joseph August
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Film Editing: Robert Wise
Cast: Edward Arnold (Daniel Webster), Walter Huston (Mr. Scratch), Jane Darwell (Ma Stone), Simone Simon (Belle), Gene Lockhart (Squire Slossum), John Qualen (Miser Stevens), H.B. Warner (Justice John Hathorne), Frank Conlan (Sheriff), Lindy Wade (Daniel Stone), George Cleveland (Cy Bibber), Anne Shirley (Mary Stone), James Craig (Jabez Stone)
BW-112 min.

By John M. Miller

The Devil And Daniel Webster Aka All That Money Can Buy

The Devil and Daniel Webster aka All That Money Can Buy

Director William Dieterle's star power had risen high after the success of RKO's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), starring Charles Laughton. As had many directors before him, Dieterle sought to gain further control over the pictures he helmed. He formed his own production company and set up an exclusive deal with RKO. For his first picture under the agreement, the director chose to adapt a well known short story, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benet. Dieterle followed a bit of conventional Hollywood wisdom in adapting a proven pre-existing property, but the inclination to "play it safe" with the film ended there. In making the movie Dieterle utilized unconventional casting, several innovative techniques in music and cinematography, and crafted a story with a potentially uncommercial mix of homespun folksiness and bone-chilling creepiness. Critics and audiences at the time seemed more perplexed than admiring, and it has taken some distance of time for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941 - aka All That Money Can Buy) to be recognized as not only one of Dieterle's greatest films, but one of the most daring, powerful, and idiosyncratic movies to come out during the height of the Hollywood studio system. Stephen Vincent Benet's story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" was first published in 1936, in the Saturday Evening Post, and became a great popular success - a purely American fable that seemed instantly to enter into the same realm of folklore as older works such as those of Washington Irving. In his biography of the writer, Parry Stroud quotes Benet on the genesis of the story: "It always seemed to me... that legends and yarns and folktales are as much a part of the real history of a country as proclamations and provisos and constitutional amendments... I couldn't help trying to show [Daniel Webster] in terms of American legend; I couldn't help wondering what would happen if a man like that ever came to grips with the Devil - and not an imported Devil, either, but a genuine, homegrown product, Mr. Scratch." As Stroud observed about the story, "From one point of view 'The Devil and Daniel Webster' is a reworking in American terms of the biblical story of Job and the Faust legend," though Benet's protagonist "...sells his soul to the Devil, not for power, like the German, but for the American dream of prosperity." This folksy, American take on the legend struck a chord with 1930s readers; the story won the O. Henry Award as the year's best short story, and it was soon adapted for both the radio and the stage. Benet himself worked on the screenplay for the movie, along with Dan Totheroh, a writer that had earlier adapted popular books for the screen, resulting in films such as The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1934). The final screenplay added one major character to Benet's story (a bewitching female emissary of the Devil), but remained largely faithful to the original. In 1840 in the town of Cross Corners, New Hampshire, the local farmers are talking of organizing a Grange movement to combat the crooked creditors, such as Miser Stevens (John Qualen). Jabez Stone (James Craig) is in danger of losing his farm and homestead where he lives with his mother (Jane Darwell) and his new wife, Mary (Anne Shirley). Stone seems to have nothing but bad luck, and in a burst of frustration exclaims that he'd sell his soul for a bit of good luck. At that instant, a Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) strolls out of mist in Stone's barn and offers seven years of prosperity to the farmer in exchange for his soul. Stone accepts the deal and uncovers a bag of gold coins beneath the boards in the barn. In the coming years, the farmer becomes wealthy, but often at the expense of his friends, who depend on Stone for seed for their crops. Stone also goes to great lengths to ally himself with the renowned Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold). When Mary gives birth to a son, Belle (Simone Simon) arrives as a nurse; actually, though, she is an emissary of Scratch who beguiles Stone and drives him further from his family. As Stone's seven years of prosperity is coming to an end, Scratch backs Stone into a corner and the farmer seeks to break his contract. This results in a trail of the Damned, as Webster defends Stone before a jury of American villains and traitors chosen by Scratch. Fortunately for Dieterle, RKO was then being run by George Schaeffer, who encouraged artistic innovation during his brief tenure as studio head. Orson Welles had completed Citizen Kane (1941) just a few months earlier, and many of the key production personnel from that film transferred straight to the Dieterle production, which began in March of 1941. Among the shared personnel were film editor Robert Wise, effects technician Vernon L. Walker, art director Van Nest Polglase, and most prominently, music composer Bernard Herrmann. Although it was only his second motion picture score, Herrmann was familiar with the material, having done the music for the radio adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster performed for the CBS Workshop series. As had been the case with Kane, Herrmann was also afforded the luxury of writing his score as the film was being shot, rather than after filming and editing, as was the industry standard. His work is considered to be one of the best scores of his career, mixing everything from quotations of standard folk tunes to experimental electronic tones. To achieve the maniacal fiddle playing of Mr. Scratch in the barn dance scene, Herrmann recorded four takes of a single violin playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" in slightly different styles; he then layered the four recordings to sound like a single player hitting an impossible sequence of notes. Herrmann would go on to win an Oscar for his score - surprisingly, it would be the only Academy Award win of his career. The Devil and Daniel Webster provides Walter Huston with one of the best roles of his career; he earned an Oscar nomination for his unforgettable turn as Mr. Scratch, a wily Earth-bound personification of The Devil - as smug in his satisfaction at stealing a pie as he is in stealing a soul. The movie also provided another noble role for the always-dependable Jane Darwell, fresh from her Oscar win as the Joad family matriarch in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Another showcase part that the movie provided was Belle, the sultry ethereal figure that Mr. Scratch sends to keep Jabez enthralled and apart from his wife. For this part Dieterle cast French actress Simone Simon, who had made an earlier batch of American films, including the lead role in Seventh Heaven (1937) with James Stewart. The matter of Simon's accent is deftly handled in The Devil and Daniel Webster; when asked by a neighboring farmer if she is French, Simon's Belle answers "I'm not anything" - the perfect response for a character that initially emerges through a whirl of smoke. It was on the strength of this appearance that producer Val Lewton cast Simon in the lead of his initial RKO horror film, The Cat People (1942). For the key role of Daniel Webster himself, Dieterle had cast Thomas Mitchell, one of the most recognizable character actors of the day. In 1939 alone, Mitchell could be seen in landmarks like Stagecoach, Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gone with the Wind, and Dieterle's own The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dieterle chose to film The Devil and Daniel Webster in an almost sequential fashion, and the entire production was nearly derailed by an accident that occurred six weeks into shooting. On April 21st, 1941, while filming the carriage scene in which Thomas Mitchell as Daniel Webster is giving a ride to Jabez's young son, the horses lurched and Mitchell was thrown from the carriage. He suffered a skull fracture and was laid up for weeks - with the key trial sequence yet to be shot, he had to be replaced in the role immediately. Edward Arnold stepped into the part, and the great majority of Mitchell's previously-filmed scenes had to be reshot. (A few long shots of Mitchell were retained). RKO had fits over the title of their film; they did not want to use the title of the original story for fear that audiences would shy away from a period piece. Several substitutes prior to release included Temptation, It Can Happen to You, and A Certain Mr. Scratch. The film was previewed (in July of 1941) under the title Here Is a Man, but the final release title (in October of 1941) was All That Money Can Buy, and it was under this name that the film was shown for many years. Reviews were generally good, even if the reviewers were sometimes perplexed. The writer for TIME magazine says the film is "definitely superior cinema" and has high praise for the actors, saying that "Dieterle wisely lets Actor Arnold play Daniel Webster without trying to look like the great man. His Webster is not the violent Massachusetts statesman but a homely, gusty humanitarian.... Walter Huston plays the Devil with demoniacal glee. Disguised as Mr. Scratch, a quizzical Yankee trader with a duck hunter's cap, bristly sideburns and stubble beard, he is a puckish tempter. Whether he is getting Daniel plastered, playing the bass drum in the village band, or spryly nibbling a carrot, he seems to be hugely enjoying his part." Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found the film to be "pleasantly provocative and slyly humorous" but Crowther complains that "...Mr. Dieterle has failed to bring into related focus before our eyes that which is supposed to be real and that which is supernatural. The illusion of imaginative release is not properly created, so that one is likely to be confused by the constant interplay of shadow and substance without any explanations." This constant interplay which Crowther found so confusing is commonplace in modern films and television, so the style that Dieterle fashioned now lends The Devil and Daniel Webster a fresh, undated look to viewers today. The Devil and Daniel Webster did not perform well at the box-office; it lost between $35,000 and $50,000 for RKO. Unfortunately, it may have broken even but for the cost overruns incurred by the need to reshoot many scenes following Thomas Mitchell's accident. For a reissue in 1952 (by Astor Pictures), the film was cut from 107 minutes to a running time of 85 minutes, losing many important scenes of character development. The 85 minute cut was the only available version for many years; fortunately a restoration was possible using a print that Dieterle himself had kept, and the full edit is now readily available. Producer David O. Selznick must have admired The Devil and Daniel Webster; in 1948 he began production on a film version of the Robert Nathan fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1949), and he hired director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph August to approximate the look of the earlier film. Selznick also utilized Bernard Herrmann, who wrote "Jennie's theme" prior to the start of principal photography. Producer: William Dieterle Director: William Dieterle Screenplay: Dan Totheroh; Stephen Vincent Benet (screenplay and story) Cinematography: Joseph August Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase Music: Bernard Herrmann Film Editing: Robert Wise Cast: Edward Arnold (Daniel Webster), Walter Huston (Mr. Scratch), Jane Darwell (Ma Stone), Simone Simon (Belle), Gene Lockhart (Squire Slossum), John Qualen (Miser Stevens), H.B. Warner (Justice John Hathorne), Frank Conlan (Sheriff), Lindy Wade (Daniel Stone), George Cleveland (Cy Bibber), Anne Shirley (Mary Stone), James Craig (Jabez Stone) BW-112 min. By John M. Miller

The Devil and Daniel Webster


Many of those involved in the making of The Devil And Daniel Webster (1941) thought they were working on the greatest movie of all time. A classic story by Stephen Vincent Benet, a renown cast, a brilliant score and the best in optical effects seemed to assure the resulting film would be a triumph. Instead it was plagued by an accident that drove up costs, went through a number of title changes and was savagely cut. For decades, all that could be seen of this masterpiece were bad prints running about two-thirds the original length. Now, for the first time since its original release, The Devil And Daniel Webster has been restored to its full length and made available on a new Criterion DVD.

RKO, at the time The Devil And Daniel Webster was made, was an artistically blessed studio. Citizen Kane (1941) had just been released and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was about to begin production. Some of those who worked on Orson Welles' great movies also worked on The Devil And Daniel Webster as well and the craftsmanship behind the excellent process work in Citizen Kane (the fake newsreel footage, the towering Xanadu castle) would masterfully create the rich world of this fantasy.

Benet's story concerns Jabez Stone (James Craig), a New Hampshire farmer in the 1840's who has a run of bad luck. He declares he'd sell his soul to the devil to make good and, on cue, Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) appears, a jaunty Yankee trader with peaked cap and beard and an ever-present cigar that wreaths him in smoke. Jabez trades his soul for seven years of riches but, when his time comes, he throws himself on the mercy of the real-life American statesman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) who must argue for Jabez's soul before a jury of the damned.

The German director William Dieterle, best known for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939), directed and gathered together a great cast and crew. Edward Arnold was not, however, among them. Thomas Mitchell, who played Scarlett O'Hara's father in Gone With The Wind (1939), was chosen to play Daniel Webster and two-thirds of his part was filmed before an accident with a runaway horse seriously injured him. Edward Arnold was called on one day's notice and the reshoots broke the budget of an already expensive picture. Another late addition was twenty-nine-year old Bernard Herrmann, fresh from writing the score for Citizen Kane. Herrmann turned the soundtrack for The Devil And Daniel Webster into a musical portrait of the dark side of American folk songs, owing much to Herrmann's idol, the composer Charles Ives. Herrmann's score would provide him his only Academy Award Oscar®.

The title turned out to be a problem. Bible-belt states did not want to put the name of the Devil on movie marquees and the studio was leery of stressing the film's period setting at a time when such movies were out of fashion. Shot under the title "A Certain Mr. Scratch," the film was previewed as "Here Is A Man" before it was finally released as All That Money Can Buy with an ad campaign that made it look like a hot, sexy movie about marital temptations. Despite all the re-titling, the movie did not make back its cost. Critics and audiences were thrown by the realism of the movie's fantasy world; apparently they were waiting for the hero to wake up and realize it had all been a dream. Seen now, The Devil and Daniel Webster is right in line with modern realistic fantasies and, in fact, with its sharp, shadowy black and white photography and Bernard Herrmann score, it seems to be the forerunner of the television series The Twilight Zone (1959-1965).

For fifty years this movie has only been available in prints cut to two-thirds its original length for a revival in the early 1950's. Now, at long last, Criterion has unearthed a print of the full-length film for their DVD. That print does show some wear, but it has excellent contrast and good sound to allow a full appreciation of its score. Extras include an essay with examples of Herrmann's scoring techniques, comparisons of editing differences between the preview release and the final release, earlier radio versions of the work, a photo gallery, a commentary track, and the original short story read by Alec Baldwin. Criterion, as always, has done a magnificent job of presenting a classic American film, one that should have long ago been added to the U.S. National Film Registry.

For more information about The Devil and Daniel Webster, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Devil and Daniel Webster, go to TCM Shopping.

by Brian Cady

The Devil and Daniel Webster

Many of those involved in the making of The Devil And Daniel Webster (1941) thought they were working on the greatest movie of all time. A classic story by Stephen Vincent Benet, a renown cast, a brilliant score and the best in optical effects seemed to assure the resulting film would be a triumph. Instead it was plagued by an accident that drove up costs, went through a number of title changes and was savagely cut. For decades, all that could be seen of this masterpiece were bad prints running about two-thirds the original length. Now, for the first time since its original release, The Devil And Daniel Webster has been restored to its full length and made available on a new Criterion DVD. RKO, at the time The Devil And Daniel Webster was made, was an artistically blessed studio. Citizen Kane (1941) had just been released and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) was about to begin production. Some of those who worked on Orson Welles' great movies also worked on The Devil And Daniel Webster as well and the craftsmanship behind the excellent process work in Citizen Kane (the fake newsreel footage, the towering Xanadu castle) would masterfully create the rich world of this fantasy. Benet's story concerns Jabez Stone (James Craig), a New Hampshire farmer in the 1840's who has a run of bad luck. He declares he'd sell his soul to the devil to make good and, on cue, Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) appears, a jaunty Yankee trader with peaked cap and beard and an ever-present cigar that wreaths him in smoke. Jabez trades his soul for seven years of riches but, when his time comes, he throws himself on the mercy of the real-life American statesman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) who must argue for Jabez's soul before a jury of the damned. The German director William Dieterle, best known for The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939), directed and gathered together a great cast and crew. Edward Arnold was not, however, among them. Thomas Mitchell, who played Scarlett O'Hara's father in Gone With The Wind (1939), was chosen to play Daniel Webster and two-thirds of his part was filmed before an accident with a runaway horse seriously injured him. Edward Arnold was called on one day's notice and the reshoots broke the budget of an already expensive picture. Another late addition was twenty-nine-year old Bernard Herrmann, fresh from writing the score for Citizen Kane. Herrmann turned the soundtrack for The Devil And Daniel Webster into a musical portrait of the dark side of American folk songs, owing much to Herrmann's idol, the composer Charles Ives. Herrmann's score would provide him his only Academy Award Oscar®. The title turned out to be a problem. Bible-belt states did not want to put the name of the Devil on movie marquees and the studio was leery of stressing the film's period setting at a time when such movies were out of fashion. Shot under the title "A Certain Mr. Scratch," the film was previewed as "Here Is A Man" before it was finally released as All That Money Can Buy with an ad campaign that made it look like a hot, sexy movie about marital temptations. Despite all the re-titling, the movie did not make back its cost. Critics and audiences were thrown by the realism of the movie's fantasy world; apparently they were waiting for the hero to wake up and realize it had all been a dream. Seen now, The Devil and Daniel Webster is right in line with modern realistic fantasies and, in fact, with its sharp, shadowy black and white photography and Bernard Herrmann score, it seems to be the forerunner of the television series The Twilight Zone (1959-1965). For fifty years this movie has only been available in prints cut to two-thirds its original length for a revival in the early 1950's. Now, at long last, Criterion has unearthed a print of the full-length film for their DVD. That print does show some wear, but it has excellent contrast and good sound to allow a full appreciation of its score. Extras include an essay with examples of Herrmann's scoring techniques, comparisons of editing differences between the preview release and the final release, earlier radio versions of the work, a photo gallery, a commentary track, and the original short story read by Alec Baldwin. Criterion, as always, has done a magnificent job of presenting a classic American film, one that should have long ago been added to the U.S. National Film Registry. For more information about The Devil and Daniel Webster, visit Criterion Collection. To order The Devil and Daniel Webster, go to TCM Shopping. by Brian Cady

Quotes

Trivia

Shortly after filming had begun, Thomas Mitchell (I) broke his leg and was replaced by Edward Arnold. Not many scenes had been shot, none were reshot, so Mitchell is still visible in some scenes.

Notes

Although the title of the print viewed was Daniel and the Devil, onscreen credits acknowledge that the picture was originally titled All That Money Can Buy. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was conceived in January 1941 as The Devil and Daniel Webster. In February 1941, the title was changed to A Certain Mr. Scratch to avoid confusion with another RKO film, The Devil and Miss Jones. By March 1941, the title had reverted back to The Devil and Daniel Webster, but it was tradeshown in July as Here Is a Man. An August 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the studio's distribution department objected to the word "devil" in the title, and demanded that the release title be All That Money Can Buy. When the film performed poorly in its first engagements, it was withdrawn, cut and reissued at different intervals and different lengths as Daniel and the Devil and, finally, The Devil and Daniel Webster.
       In the opening onscreen credits, the names of the cast members and production crew all appear before the title under the headings "in front of the camera" (cast) and "in back of the camera" (crew). The names and respective job titles are then repeated after the film title. Also, all the character names appear in lower case in the opening credits. This was the first film produced by William Dieterle's production unit for release by RKO. According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, it was shot on RKO's Pathé lot in Culver City on a new 33,000 square foot sound stage, one of the largest ever built. A New York Herald Tribune news item reported that the snow in the blizzard was composed of 1,200 small white onions, 25,000 moth balls, 1,500 pounds of uncooked tapioca and 1,000 pounds of bleached cornflakes. Hollywood Reporter news items provide the following information about the production: Jane Darwell was borrowed from Fox to play the role of "Ma Stone." Anne Shirley had to bow out of RKO's Father Takes a Wife to appear in this picture. Production began on March 25, 1941 and was running ahead of schedule until 22 April when Thomas Mitchell, who was playing the role of "Daniel Webster," suffered a skull fracture after a horse became frightened and plunged across the set, overturning Mitchell's carriage. Because of the accident, Mitchell was incapacitated for two months and the production was shut down. In early May, Charles Coburn was announced as Mitchell's replacement. On 29 May, Edward Arnold stepped into the title role, and the company reshot all of Mitchell's scenes, completing production on July 11, 1941. Bernard Herrmann won an Academy Award for Best Score and Walter Huston was nominated as Best Actor, but lost to Gary Cooper for his performance in Sergeant York. In 1960, the NBC television network broadcast a version of The Devil and Daniel Webster, produced by David Susskind and starring Edward G. Robinson and David Wayne, and in 1962, the network televised another version of the story.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1941

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Re-released in United States on Video October 10, 1993

Released in United States 1941

Released in United States on Video August 31, 1988

Re-released in United States on Video October 10, 1993