Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Devil and Daniel Webster, The

(vt All That Money Can Buy UK; vt Daniel and the Devil; vt Here is a Man) US movie (1941). RKO. Pr William Dieterle. Dir Dieterle. Spfx Vernon L Walker. Screenplay Dan Totheroh. Based on "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) by Stephen Vincent Benét. Starring Edward Arnold (Daniel Webster), James Craig (Jabez Stone), Jane Darwell (Ma Stone), Walter Huston (Mr Scratch), Anne Shirley (Mary Stone), Simone Simon (Belle), Lindy Wade (Daniel Stone). 106 mins. B/w.

Broke New England farmer Jabez Stone idly wishes he could sell his Soul to the Devil for a bit of good luck, and the Devil, in the guise of Mr Scratch, appears to him offering a Contract whereby he can have seven years of it. Initially sceptical, Stone changes his mind as he becomes rich, at the same time transforming from a kindly farmer into a cut-throat businessman. After the Devil's beautiful temptress servant Belle joins the household, Stone casts his own family out. Stone holds a ball in his mansion; it soon becomes more like The Masque of the Red Death (1964), and he realizes his bizarre, cackling guests are others who have sold their souls to the Devil. Fleeing to his wife Mary he begs forgiveness; she consults the famous lawyer Daniel Webster, who argues Stone's case against Mr Scratch before a jury selected from notorious US villains and traitors, winning the "case" through appealing to their patriotism. The Devil in fury curses Webster to political futility, a Curse born out by history.

Arnold and Huston have plenty of fun with this enjoyable moral fable – as does Dieterle, whose highpoint this probably was. The photography – by Joseph August – adds to the movie's profound sense of atmosphere: it is one of those movies that exemplifies the power of b/w. The music (by Bernard Herrmann) has much the same effect, and was awarded an Oscar. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.