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aka - All that Money Can Buy
USA 1941
Directed by
William Dieterle
106 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Devil And Daniel Webster

William Dieterle’s film bears some resemblance to Frank Capra’s homages to homespun values (Meet John Doe which was also released in 1941) but it is a much more intriguing film than Capra’s sentimentally populist approach ever permitted.

Based on a short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, it tells of a New Hampshire farmer, Jabez Stone (James Craig) who in 1840, burdened with debt, sells his soul to the devil (Walter Huston) in exchange for seven years of good fortune. He grows rich, turns his back on his wife (Anne Shirley) and neighbours and takes up with a diabolical floozy (Simone Simon). But when the Devil turns up to collect his soul Daniel reneges and he appeals to the lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to help him

Dieterle, aided by veteran cameraman Joseph August does a wonderful job in balancing folksy realism with supernatural goings-on, nowhere better manifested than by Walter Huston’s wonderfully impish incarnation of Old Nick as a good-natured trickster. Bernard Herrmann, fresh from Citizen Kane, which also released the same year, won his one and only Oscar for his striking score.

As a morality play you’d have to say that even though Jabez was a initially a nice guy he ends up getting off very lightly for his transgressions but that aside, Dieterle’s expressionist-influenced realization is wonderfully rich, combining sound and vision delightfully to create the other-worldly dimension of the story. The Devil And Daniel Webster deserves to be a better known film. 

FYI:  Edward Arnold (who also appeared playing the opposite kind of character in Meet John Doe) was a replacement for Thomas Mitchell who was injured during filming necessitating all his scenes to be re-filmed. The movie was officially nominated for Oscars under the title All That Money Can Buy because The Devil and Miss Jones was also released in 1941 and nominated for Oscars.

The film was remade in 2001 as Shortcut To Happiness with Alec Baldwin directing and starring as Jabez Stone, Anthony Hopkins as Daniel Webster and Jennifer Love Hewitt as The Devil. US$24 million later Baldwin’s version was rejected, he walked away and further finance was frozen. It was finally sold on, re-cut and released in 2004 with the same title as the original whereupon it sank like a stone. 

DVD Extras: None

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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