A down-on-his-luck farmer makes a deal with the devil for seven years of prosperity. When Mr. Scratch comes to collect, orator and hero of the common man Daniel Webster comes to the rescue.Written by
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Bernard Herrmann said his favourite part of the score was the "Miser's Waltz," in which Belle dances Miser Stevens to death. See more »
Shortly after filming had begun, Thomas Mitchell fractured his skull and was replaced by 'Edward Arnold'. Not many scenes had been shot, none were re-shot, so Mitchell is still visible in some scenes. See more »
[Ma Stone is reading out loud from the book of Job]
Give me the book, Ma. I'm going to read us something cheerful from the book of Ruth. That is, if you don't mind changing the lesson.
Land sakes, I don't mind. I never did hold much with Job, even if he is scripture. Took on too much to suit me. Course I don't want to malign the man; but he always sounded to me like he come from Massachusetts.
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Opening credits prologue: It' s a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire. It happened, so they say, a long time ago. But it could happen anytime - anywhere - to anybody . . . .
This film could never work now, because Americans are far too cynical to accept a politician beating the Devil in a battle of morals. Now the politician would be in the Devil's hip pocket. "The Devil and Daniel Webster" is a creepy, effective little morality tale about a farmer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for prosperity and the politician who ends up defending him and winning it back.
What seemed startling in 1941 feels mostly creaky by today's standards, but there are still some fresh moments of film making in this one. William Dieterle was obviously open to experimentation when it comes to the use of cinematography and sound, and the movie has a striking visual look. The plot is mostly connect the dots, and there are no real surprises, but I don't know that one watches a morality tale for surprises in the first place.
Walter Huston is extremely creepy as the Devil (aka Mr. Scratch). He received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance even though, based on sheer screen time, he really has more of a supporting role. But he's so effective when on screen that his presence dominates the film even when he's physically absent, which probably accounts for the lead nomination.
Edward Arnold is pretty good too as Daniel Webster. Also standing out is Jane Darwell (Ma Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath") as a hardened farm mother.
Parts of this film have a wicked sense of humour, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The trial at the end (with a literal jury of the damned), is especially amusing.
On a sidenote, the film was successful in capturing the 1941 Academy Award for Best Dramatic Score.
Don't expect to see any points made that haven't already been made a thousand times in a thousand other movies, but enjoy the originality of the film technique on display.
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