The Devil and Daniel Webster

( 5 )


A cinematic retelling of a classic piece of American folklore that has rarely been seen in the original form since its initial release in 1941, director William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster gets the usual loving treatment from The Criterion Collection, albeit with a few disappointing, but unavoidable, flaws. Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the image is remarkably clean given its age, with few signs of wear or speckling. Though the image itself is crisp and sharp, there is a distracting flickering that ...
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A cinematic retelling of a classic piece of American folklore that has rarely been seen in the original form since its initial release in 1941, director William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster gets the usual loving treatment from The Criterion Collection, albeit with a few disappointing, but unavoidable, flaws. Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the image is remarkably clean given its age, with few signs of wear or speckling. Though the image itself is crisp and sharp, there is a distracting flickering that is, unfortunately, present throughout the film. While this flaw may prove somewhat distracting to some viewers, most will likely find it only a minor annoyance to an otherwise well-presented film. Unfortunately, the sound, as presented here, is also somewhat distracting, though likely unavoidable given the elements with which Criterion had to work. An underlying hiss is present throughout the film, with slightly muddled dialogue and an unevenly mixed musical score proving a minor annoyance in an otherwise enjoyable film. It really should be noted that the film is still extremely enjoyable if one is able to lower their expectations from modern standards of sound and image, and given the film's varied history, it's a pleasure simply to see it completely uncut and in the form Dieterle had originally intended. As is par for the course with Criterion, an abundance of generous and entertaining extras have also been included on this release. A commentary track featuring film historian Bruce Eder and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith is remarkably detailed, featuring minute information on everything from the unconventional methods used to calm a restless sow to revealing information about the innovative methods composer Herrmann used to give the Devil's rendition of "Pop Goes the Weasel" a truly otherworldly feel. Eder and Smith really know their stuff, and their commentary track is a virtually bottomless wealth of information concerning the film. Comparisons between The Devil and Daniel Webster and Here Is a Man (the alternate title for the preview version of the film) offer an interesting look at a few techniques that would ultimately prove ineffective, and a reading of Stephen Vincent Benét's original short story The Devil and Daniel Webster by actor Alec Baldwin proves to be an enjoyable listen. Also included are the original, Columbia Workshop radio performances of both The Devil and Daniel Webster and Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent (with both featuring the music of Herrmann). Though the sound on both of these presentations leaves quite a bit to be desired (it actually sounds as if someone is crinkling foil during Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent), they nevertheless contain a remarkably warm, nostalgic feel that make them entirely listenable. An interactive essay by Christopher Husted on the music of The Devil and Daniel Webster is as innovative as it is fascinating and a gallery of behind-the-scene photos and promotional material are likewise well presented and of very high quality. Rounding things out are some informative liner notes featuring both The Author Is Pleased, an original New York Times essay by Benet himself, and a fascinating article by Tom Piazza, appropriately entitled The Devil Gets the Best Lines.
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Special Features

Audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder and author Steven C. Smith ("A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann"); video comparison between The Devil and Daniel Webster and William Dieterle’s preview version of the film, entitled Here Is a Man; the Columbia Workshop’s radio dramatizations of Stephen Vincent Benét’s stories, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent," both with music by Bernard Herrmann; Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos and promotional materials; new essay by author Tom Piazza ("Blues and Trouble: Twelve Stories"); English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired; RSDL dual-layer edition; more.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Based upon a well-known story, The Devil and Daniel Webster has many of the makings of an excellent film, yet the end result, while quite good and worth watching, is not the special product it might have been. The biggest drawback is in its casting of the central role, which is neither the Devil nor Daniel Webster but the character Jabez Stone, whose soul is at the center of the conflict. The title characters are more memorably drawn and offer more delights, but Stone is the real center of the story, and the performance that James Craig offers is far from adequate. Craig's dramatic instincts are far too basic, giving the character an obviousness that is damaging. More problematic is that the actor cannot make the character likeable; this is admittedly a chore, given the way he is written, but it's crucial to the film's ultimate success, and Craig's failure here is a definite demerit. Fortunately, Walter Huston as Scratch and Edward Arnold as Webster are on hand to add some magic to the film, and they do far more than is required of them. Arnold, shading his basically good character with bits of pomposity, grabs hold of his big moments, delivering them both thunderously and in quite tones that create their own thunder. Even better is Huston, a dandy devil that is simply too much fun. He has so much life and fire and wit in him that it's easy to understand why people fall prey to his temptations. An added bonus is Bernard Herrmann's fascinating and perfectly-attuned score, which carries much of the storytelling on its own.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 9/30/2003
  • UPC: 037429181423
  • Original Release: 1941
  • Rating:

  • Source: Criterion
  • Aspect Ratio: Pre-1954 Standard (1.33.1)
  • Presentation: Black & White
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Language: English
  • Time: 1:46:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 1,152

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Edward Arnold Daniel Webster
Walter Huston Mr. Scratch
James Craig Jabez Stone
Jane Darwell Ma Stone
Simone Simon Belle
Anne Shirley Mary Stone
Gene Lockhart Squire Slossum
John Qualen Miser Stevens
Lindy Wade Daniel Stone
George Cleveland Cy Bibber
Frank Conlan Sheriff
William Alland Guide
Frank Austin Spectator
Walter S. Baldwin Hank
Hazel Boyne
Sonny Bupp Martin Van Aldrich
Jeff Corey Tom Sharp
Alec Craig Eli Higgins
Eddie Dew Farmer
Patsy Doyle Servant
Robert Dudley Lem
Sarah Edwards Lucy Slossum
Fern Emmett Wife
James Farley Studio Gateman
Charles Herzinger Old Farmhand
Harry Humphrey Minister
Robert Emmett Keane Husband
Anita Lee Infant
Bob Pittard Clerk
Stewart Richards Doctor
Sherman Sanders Caller
Carl Stockdale Van Brooks
Robert Strange Clerk of Court
Ferris Taylor President
Jim Toney Another Farmer
H.B. Warner Justice Hawthorne
Technical Credits
William Dieterle Director, Producer
Joseph H. August Cinematographer
Bernard Herrmann Score Composer
Dan Totheroh Screenwriter
Vernon Walker Special Effects
Robert Wise Editor
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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. "It Could Even Happen to You" [1:52]
2. For Better or for Worse [7:42]
3. Wonderful Language [4:07]
4. Seven Years [7:13]
5. Mashed Potatoes & Milk [1:40]
6. Paid in Full [3:10]
7. Ten Throws [6:41]
8. "Just the Beginning" [8:27]
9. Hail & Harvest [4:11]
10. Keeping Him Warm [6:23]
11. Higher Stakes [7:55]
12. No Respect [3:20]
13. A Changed Man [4:40]
14. Constitution & Bill of Rights [3:52]
15. "Quite a Success" [8:56]
16. The Contract [4:28]
17. "To Save a New Hampshire Man" [6:01]
18. American Judge, American Jury [5:14]
19. "Here Is This Man" [6:41]
20. And He Hasn't Been Seen... [3:22]
1. Color Bars
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Side #1 --
   Play the Movie
         Conjuring the Devil
         Fiction vs. History/Benét Biography
         First Appearance/Supernatural Mood
         The Opera
         James Craig/Curious Politics
         Replacing Daniel/Dan Totheroh
         A Changed Man/Ironies & Conflicts
         Cinematic Magic/A Laughing Matter
         Famous Staging/Skirting the Code
         Herrmann & His Influences
         Concert Suite/Earlier Casting
         Playing to Two
         A Career Renewed/Fateful Accident
         Underappreciated Talents/Tour de Force
         An Extraordinary Life & Career
         Regained Confidence
         Introducing the Damned
         Resounding Impact/One Take or More
         Breaking Ground/Closing Down
         Color Bars
   Scratch's Black Book
      Here Is a Man Comparison
      "The Devil and Daniel Webster"
      The Columbia Workshop
         "The Devil and Daniel Webster"
            Daniel Webster's Biggest Case
            A Change of Luck
            Seeking Help/Trial
            Saving a Soul
            ."..but Not New Hampshire"
         "Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent"
            "The Busiest Man in New England"
            A Monstrous Catch
            Negotiating a Treaty
            Stars and Stripes
         About The Columbia Workshop
      The Devil in Context
         Folk Songs
            Play Clue
         The Devil
            Play Clue
         "Introduction and Allegro"
            Play Clue
         Herrmann Gallery
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 1, 2010

    The movie was still great more than 20 years later!

    I was only about 12 years old when I first saw "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and liked it so well, that I went back to the theatre to see it 2 more times!. It became a favorite topic within our small group of youngsters because we all remarked about the very last scene where Mr. Scatch does what? Can't tell you because it would spoil it for people who haven't seen the movie yet.

    In any event, I joined the Navy during WWII where I served aboard a small Destroyer-Escort in the Pacific. I had an engaging conversation about "The Devil and Daniel Webster" movie with our Communications Officer (an English major) who was both delighted and very surprised that I knew the movie so well. In any event, I'll skip to the time it first came out on VHS years later. After I bought it (the first copy sold in the store!), it was with trembling fingers that I opened the package and inserted the VHS into the player. My heart raced...would it still be as good as I had remembered it? Yes! Oh, Yes! Yes! I've played it for my children and grandchildren so I heartily recommend it to everyone! It's a true Collector's Item!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Simply Stated - - - - - A Classic

    If there was ever a film which qualifies for a Hollywood classic it is the 1941 version of 'The Devil and Daniel Webster'.It is a near perfect combination of story, screenplay, actors, photography, music, set design, and lighting. Each character is well-defined and memorable. Edward Albert is perfect as Daniel Webster. Jane Darwell ('Grapes of Wrath') turns in one of her usual fine performances. Walter Huston, however, steals the show with a near perfect a portrayal of 'Old Scratch'. He is as clever and smooth a salesman as you will ever meet but when it is time for him to 'collect' the smiling mask is dropped to reveal his true nature. The story is one that all humanity can identify with --- the struggle between the desire for more and the realization of what true riches truly are. This film was, unfortunately, overshadowed by Orson Welles 'Citizen Kane' (which was released at the same time). It would be an excellent film to spark discussion in a high school or college class. If you don't own this film you should. It is worth watching more than once.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    'Lost Movie Masterpiece!'

    'The Devil And Daniel Webster' is a wonderful fantasy and morality play and a movie classic! Handsomely produced by RKO Studios in 1941, and released under the title 'All The Money Can Buy', it was directed by William Dierterle, and stars Walter Huston and Edward Arnold, perspectively in the title roles. Both were top character actors in Hollywood, and both give the performances of their careers in parts they were born to play. James Craig, MGM's 2nd stringer, gets the plum part of the sodden farmer who sells his sole to Old Scratch for seven years of prosperity and wealth and does a great job! Rounding out the cast is Anne Shirley as Craig's lovely and loyal wife, Jane Darwell as his strong wise mother, and gorgeous Simone Simon as a temptress sent by the Devil to keep the farmer in line! Based on a classic short story by Stephen St. Vincent Benet, this film is a masterpece of American foklore, and quite eerie and haunting. The Criterion DVD is beautifully restored, and the picture is razor sharp. The disk also contains extras for those wanting to research the original story. 'Devil And Daniel Webster' has been largely unseen and forgotten, but Criterion has rediscovered this lost treasure!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2011

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews