As the film opens, we're introduced to struggling young farmer Stone and his family in mid 19th Century New Hampshire, his stern but supportive old mother and his meek, pious wife, who, at the end of his tether after a string of bad luck, invites the devil into his life by offering his soul for two cents if only his luck would change. Enter Huston as Old Nick, or as he's called here, Mr Scratch, in an eerily arresting scene, the first of many in the film, to take advantage of Stone's weakness to promptly sign him up to seven years of prosperity in return for his soul to be delivered up when that time is up.
Sure enough, Stone's prospects immediately turn for the better, but at the expense of his own Christian good-nature as he binds his fellow farmers to him in usury, hardens against his wife and mother and even condones the conduct of his openly rebellious young son as he defies his mum. In this he's helped by the chilling presence of Belle, a wild beauty, inserted by Mister Snatch into Stone's life by means of another startling introduction scene, almost immediately the baby is born. As the seven years tick by, with Scratch and Belle leading Jabez to perdition, there seems to be only man who can come to Stone's rescue, the good-natured, upstanding Daniel Webster, the future presidential aspirant for New Hampshire and it's to him that Stone's wife turns as a last resort to beg him to try to prise her husband from the Devil's grasp. Thus, in a titanic trial by the damned, convened by Scratch in Stone's mansion with the ghosts of bad men from American history, traitor Benedict Arnold most prominent amongst them, presiding, Jabez's fate is decided.
Huston is terrific as Mr Scratch, playing his character almost like a demented leprechaun at times, but still with a steely eye for his business with Arnold a good foil for him once they join battle. Simone Simon plays her role of temptress with demonic relish while James Craig and Anne Shirley shine as the young couple at the centre of the storm, although if Craig says "Concarn it!" one more time, I think I'll throttle him. The special effects are excellent, especially one concerning a flying axe and it's all helped by an early Bernard Herrmann soundtrack.
All in all, a suitably spooky, thought-provoking morality tale and as for that cheeky finishing shot, just watch out, Mr Scratch could be coming for you next time...