Devil and Daniel Webster, The (1941)

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), produced and directed by William Dieterle.

(Aka All That Money Can Buy and Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil and Here Is a Man).

After a long string of bad luck and imminent loss of his farm, Jabez Stone receives an interesting proposition from the infernal Mr Scratch -- Walter Huston as a jolly leprechaun -- to sell his soul in exchange for wealth and all that money can buy. For seven years. After that: why worry?

Which Jabez does, signing in blood and with the due date burned into the bark of a tree. His fortunes improve immediately, but we suspect how this is going to go.

I had long heard of this but never seen it before. I think it is more popular among film fans than general audiences. Buffs appreciate the director, cast and crew, cinematographer Joseph H. August (Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Portrait of Jennie (1948), They Were Expendable (1945)) and imaginative score by Bernard Herrmann, his second. Edited by Robert Wise.

While appreciating all that and the fantasy concept, I found it to drag. Jabez's self-degradation goes on and on. I would have liked a more appealing actor in that part. The home video version is the restored original cut, longer than was commonly seen before.

I did find much to like. Anne Shirley (Murder, My Sweet (1944)) looks like an RKO version of Olivia de Havilland. One night she gives her husband the most subtle "come hither" expression I have ever seen in film. Watch closely:

He gets the message: nine months later they have a baby.

Other intriguing aspects:

Available on DVD from Criterion with and informative commentary track on the production and score.