Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) (aka All That Money Can Buy)

In William Dieterle's cautionary and classic fantasy tale, faithfully based on Stephen Vincent Benét's 1937 Faustian short story - it featured an Oscar-winning score by Bernard Herrmann:

  • the film's opening title cards: "It's a story they tell in the border country where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire. It happened, so they say, a long time ago. But it could happen anytime - anywhere - to anybody... Yes - it could happen even to you"
  • the main story: in 1840, poor, 27 year-old Cross Corners, New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig), a kind-hearted man, married for two years to Mary (Anne Shirley), found that he was down on his luck; his family and shrewd and wise mother Ma Stone (Jane Darwell) faced eviction and were in debt to local loan shark Miser Stevens (John Qualen) - they were threatened with poverty and farm foreclosure
  • the scene of 19th century farmer Jabez bargaining injudiciously with his soul - with the jolly but ruthless Satan/Devil/Mephistopheles (Mr. Scratch) (Walter Huston) - for seven years of "good luck...and all that money can buy"; he idly offered to sell his soul for two cents to the jolly but ruthless Mr. Scratch; Jabez became financially prosperous and wealthy after which the Devil would take his invisible soul; Jabez found Hessian gold coins under the floor of his barn and immediately paid off his debts to Stevens, and became richer and richer (with the townsfolk owing him money as a fearsome land baron), but also he became greedy and hard-hearted
  • Scratch's sending of his bewitching and alluring live-in housemaid-nanny, a temptress named Belle (Simone Simon), who callously drove off his wife Mary and newborn son; Jabez also took up drinking and gambling
  • Jabez was given the option of giving up his son to save his soul after the 7 years was up - but he refused; he enlisted the aid of silver-tongued orator/lawyer Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to defend him - with a jury trial - to plead his case and win back his soul from an iron-clad contract
  • in the film's dramatic conclusion, Webster argued to save Jabez Stone's soul from the devil in front of a jury of "damned souls" summoned by the Devil - composed of infamous cutthroats, brigands and traitors in American history, such as Benedict Arnold, who had also previously sold their souls and lost their freedom
  • the judge was Justice John Hathorne (W.B. Warner) of the Salem witch trials, who refused cross-examination, and denied disqualification of the prejudiced jury
  • with eloquent oratory in the final moments, Webster gave an impassioned closing argument, which persuaded the jury and the court to turn against Mr. Scratch, destroy the contract, and have mercy on Jabez's soul: "Gentlemen of the jury, it's the eternal right of every man to raise his fist against his fate, but when he does, there are crossroads. You took the wrong turn. So did Jabez Stone. But he found it out in time. He's here tonight to save his soul. Gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to give Jabez Stone another chance to walk upon this earth, among - the trees, the growing corn, and the smell of grasses in the spring. What would you all give for another chance to see those things you must all remember and often yearn to touch again? For you were all men once. Clean American air was in your lungs and you breathed it deeply for it was free and blew across an earth you loved. These are common things I speak of, small things, but they are good things. Yet without your soul, they mean nothing. Without your soul, they sicken....(pointing at the Devil) You can't be on his side, the side of the oppressor. Let Jabez Stone keep his soul - a soul which doesn't belong to him alone, but to his family, his son, and his country. Gentlemen of the jury, don't let this country go to the devil! Free Jabez Stone! God bless the United States and the men who made her free!"
  • the last fade-out image of the defeated but never down Scratch on the fence looking at the camera/audience for his next 'victim' - breaking the fourth wall

Daniel Webster
(Edward Arnold)


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