Devil and Daniel Webster, The (aka All That Money Can Buy) (1941): Dieterle’s Fantasy Film

A retelling of the Faust legend, set in 1840s rural New Hampshire, All That Money Can Buy was directed by the German-born actor-director William Dieterle.

The Devil and Daniel Webster

Dieterle, billed as Wilhelm, had played a featured role in  Murnau’s silent epic version of Faust, and so knew the source material well.

The original title of the film was “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” but it was changed to avoid confusion with a similarly titled feature, “The Devil and Miss Jones.”  The film was also released under the titles of “Daniel and the Devil” and “Here Is a Man.” Later on, the original title was restored on some prints.
Adapted by Stephen Vincent Benét and Dan Totheroh from Benét’s short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” the tale centers on Jabez Stone, a poor but kind farmer. Plagued by mishaps, he impulsively declares that he would sell his soul to the devil for two cents. Moments later, the devil appears as “Mr. Scratch” (Walter Huston in Oscar-nominated performance) offering Jabez a bargain, sell his soul in return for seven years of good luck and prosperity.

Scratch tempts Jabez with Hessian gold coins, and Jabez signs the contract. He begins his new life by paying off his debts and buying new supplies.

Jabez then befriends the celebrated Massachusetts Congressman and orator Daniel Webster, a friend of his wife’s family, and a political figure who champions poor farmers. Webster himself is tempted by Mr. Scratch to sell his soul, in return for fulfilling his ambition to become President.

Jabez’s wealth begins to change him: He ensnares his desperate neighbors with onerous financial contracts, and he slowly alienates his devoted wife Mary and his pious mother. Later, as the townspeople celebrate the harvest in Jabez’s barn, Mary gives birth to their first child, whom they name Daniel in honor of Mr. Webster, but minutes later, Jabez discovers that the local girl they had hired as a maid has vanished. In her place, he finds the beautiful and sinister Belle who has been sent by Mr. Scratch. She bewitches Jabez, driving a wedge between him and Mary. As Daniel grows, he too falls under Belle’s malign influence, and she turns him into a spoiled, disobedient brat.

Jabez goes on to become one of the country’s richest men, building lavish mansion, in which he offers a huge ball. But it ends in disaster: after a nightmarish dance between Belle and Miser Stephens, Jabez finds Stephens dead on the floor. He, too, had signed a pact with Mr. Scratch and his time was up. Now desperate and realizing that his own time is almost up, Jabez tries to erase the deadline Mr. Scratch has burned into the tree outside the barn, but Scratch appears and again tempts Jabez, offering to extend his deal in return for the soul of his son. Horrified, Jabez flees and chases after Mary. He begs her forgiveness and pleads with Webster to help him find some way out of his bargain with the devil. Webster agrees to take his case. Mr. Scratch again offers an extension in exchange for Jabez’s son, but Jabez turns him down. He then begs Webster to leave before it is too late, but Webster refuses to go.

When Mr. Scratch shows up to claim his due, Webster has to wager his own soul before his fiendish opponent will agree to a trial by jury. Mr. Scratch chooses the jury members from among the most notorious personalities of American history (including Benedict Arnold) with John Hathorne (one of the magistrates of the Salem witch trials) as the judge. Webster begins by stating that he envies the jury because, as Americans, they were present at the birth of a nation, but they were fooled like Jabez Stone, trapped in their desire to rebel against their fate. Webster explains that it is the eternal right of everyone, including the jury, to raise their fists against their fates. They took the wrong turn, just as Stone did, but Stone’s soul can be saved.

Hathorne asks the jury for their verdict and, in response, the foreman, Arnold, tears up the contract, releasing Jabez from his deal. Webster then kicks Mr Scratch out, but, as he is ejected, the fiend promises that Webster will never fulfill his ambition to become President. Scratch sits alone, resignedly thumbing through a notebook. He puts it away and then breaks the fourth wall, moving his gaze until he stops and looks straight ahead.

Oscar Nominations: 2
Actor: Walter Huston
Scoring of a Dramatic Picture: Bernard Herrmann
Oscar Awards: 1
 
Scoring
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was Gary Cooper for “Sergeant York,” directed by Howard Hawks.

Cast
Edward Arnold as Daniel Webster
Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch
James Craig as Jabez Stone
Anne Shirley as Mary Stone
Jane Darwell as Ma Stone
Simone Simon as Belle
Gene Lockhart as Squire Slossum
John Qualen as Miser Stevens
H. B. Warner as Justice John Hathorne
Alec Craig as Eli Higgins
George Cleveland as Cy Bibber
Lindy Wade as Daniel Stone
Jeff Corey as Tom Sharp (uncredited)
Carl Stockdale as Van Brooks (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by William Dieterle, Charles L. Glett
Screenplay by Dan Totheroh, Stephen Vincent Benét, based on The Devil and Daniel Webster 1936 story by Stephen Vincent Benét
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Joseph H. August
Edited by Robert Wise

Production company: William Dieterle Productions

Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures

Release date: October 17, 1941

Running time: 107 mins