Features and Columns · Movies

The Enduring Folk Horror of ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’

“I’d fight ten thousand devils to save a New Hampshire man.”
Devil And Daniel Webster
By  · Published on April 10th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores why you should watch William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster.

It’s the mid-1800s in New Hampshire, and an incredibly named (but incredibly unlucky) farmer named Jabez Stone (James Craig)  yearns for a better life. His bible-clutching mother (Jane Darwell) and soft-eyed bride (Anne Shirley) assure him that they’re happy; that being together is enough. But Jabez dreams of the easy life. And, in a moment of weakness, he falls prey to that most infamous of temptations: he offers to sell his soul.

Instantly, a man — that is, if he is a man — appears Mr. Scratch (Canadian-born Hollywood royalty Walter Huston). With the slick charm of a seasoned salesman, Scratch promises prosperity and good fortune for the paltry sum of Jabez’s eternal soul. Naturally, when the other shoe drops, Jabez realizes only one man can save him: lawyer, statesman, and real historical figure, Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold).

Also marketed as All That Money Can Buy, William Dieterle‘s 1941 film slots in nicely amidst its American folk horror peers, which tell and re-tell the tale of a desperate man willing to risk everything for success. It’s a fitting cautionary tale for a nation steeped in Devil deals and predatory capitalism. And few Hollywood productions have done the legend justice quite like The Devil and Daniel Webster.

If you need more convincing, here’s a video essay on why you need to check this gem out, from its expressionistic cinematography to Bernard Hermann’s only Oscar-winning score.

Watch “The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) – 20th Century Gems”

Who made this?

This video essay on why The Devil and Daniel Webster rules is by APLattanzi, a freelance filmmaker and illustrator who hails from the Philadelphia area. You can subscribe to them on YouTube here. Their essays cover a large swath of topics, from film scores to short films. You can also find them on Letterboxd here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.