The Devil and Daniel Webster

In 1941, RKO released its dark and heavy treatment of American morality, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The very next year, the studio returned to the theme in William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, a similarly rich, but much more accessible story of a man (nearly) corrupted by power and prosperity. When Jabez Stone makes a deal with the devil—involving seven years of good luck and the forfeit of his soul—it takes the legendary American orator Daniel Webster to argue the young farmer out of his obligation. The story has traditional, even folkloric roots, and recognizable characters: historical American figures, like Webster or the ghostly Benedict Arnold; and more archetypal characters, like the trickster Devil, the innocent farm boy, or the foreign temptress. These are far from whimsical caricatures, however; even the smirking and winking Walter Huston as Scratch shows how real a danger is pride as he threatens Jabez with the young man’s own bad choices, and provides some substantial questions about what it means to be a good neighbor, a good citizen, and a good human.

Stacey Snider

Film Info

Title: The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
Country of Origin: US
Running Time: 109 min
Language: English
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color: B/W
Certification: Sweden: 15
Releasing Company: Criterion Collection [us] (2003) (USA) (DVD), Criterion Collection [us] (USA) (laserdisc), Embassy Home Entertainment [us] (video), Nelson Entertainment [us] (laserdisc), RCA/Columbia (video), RKO Radio Pictures Inc. [us]
Producer: William Dieterle, Charles L. Glett
Director: William Dieterle
Writer: Stephen Vincent Benet (story), Dan Totheroh
Cinematographer: Joseph H. August
Designer: Van Nest Polglase
Editor: Robert Wise
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Genre: Drama / Fantasy