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The Devil & Daniel Webster (The Criterion Collection)

4.4 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Edward Arnold, Walter Huston. A well-known lawyer takes on the devil in court-trying to win back his client's soul-in this thoroughly engaging fantasy. 1941/b&w/85 min/NR/fullscreen.


Stephen Vincent Benet's timeless 1937 short story gets the red-carpet treatment on Criterion's feature-packed DVD of The Devil & Daniel Webster. William Dieterle's inspired film remains the classic it always was, proving that Citizen Kane wasn't the only cinematic marvel to appear in 1941. It's a sturdy, stylish rendition of Benet's original narrative, beginning when a luckless farmer (James Craig) strikes a Faustian bargain with the devil incarnate Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston at his devious best), trading his soul for seven years of prosperity, during which he grows corrupted, despised, and regretful of his mistake. To Scratch's chagrin, legendary orator Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) intervenes with a triumphant defense, and Dieterle's brilliant direction gives the proceedings a light, economical touch of supernatural mischief.

To complement the cleverness of the film adaptation, this delightful DVD also includes a playfully expressive reading of Benet's original story by Alec Baldwin, and vintage radio performances of two of Benet's three "Daniel Webster" stories. The film and radio plays were scored by legendary composer Bernard Herrmann, whose Oscar®-winning film score is examined in an interactive essay by Herrmann expert Christopher Husted. Excerpts from an earlier preview version of the film (then titled Here Is a Man) reveal creepy, negative-image shock-shots of Mr. Scratch that were later removed, but they further demonstrate Dieterle's willingness to experiment. With additional essays and archival materials, Criterion's superb DVD shows how a great story can lend itself, with consistent success, to a variety of mediums. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • New transfer from restored elements
  • Audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder and author Steven C. Smith
  • Video comparison between The Devil and Daniel Webster and William Deterle's "preview Version of the film, entitled Here is a Man
  • Reading of Stephen Vincent Benet's short story by Alec Baldwin
  • The Columbia Workshop's radio dramatizations of Stephen Vincent Benet's stories with music by Bernard Herrmann
  • The music of the presented in an interactive essay by Christopher Husted
  • Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos and promotional materials
  • New essay by author Tom Piazza (Blues and Trouble: Twelve Stories)

Product Details

  • Actors: Edward Arnold, Walter Huston, Jane Darwell, Simone Simon, Gene Lockhart
  • Directors: William Dieterle
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: September 30, 2003
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0000AKY54
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,077 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Devil & Daniel Webster (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

"The Devil & Daniel Webster" is simply put, a great film with an important moral. It is based on a short story of the same name by Stephen Vincent Benét.

It takes place near the state lines of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the 1840's. Jabez Stone, a struggling and destitute farmer signs a contract with Satan, offering to give him his soul after 7 years of good fortune. He has money but is very unhappy with his predicament. When the devil comes to collect, Jabez calls on Daniel Webster to help him void the contract.


Daniel Webster was a real-life historical figure. He was secratary of State a few times and ran for president in 1836

I am reminded of Matthew 16:26

"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" I could almost say that this could be a Christian film. It goes to show that one's soul is more important that their life.

The acting in the film is excellent and a great Oscar® winning musical score. The film also includes the classic folk tune "Devil's Dream" which is a longtime favorite of mine.

The film was remade in 2001 by Alec Baldwin but never released due to budget problems in post production. Quite a shame as a remake would be great for the times we are living in.

The DVD has an excellent assortment of special features also.

There is a recording of Alec Baldwin reading the original short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, production and publicity photos and ephemerma, A comparison between the two versions of the film, a presentation about the music in the film, audio commentary by Bruce Eder and Steven C.
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Format: DVD
William Dieterle was Hollywood's greatest fantasist in the thirties and forties. Whether making marvelous neo-Gothic/Romantic versions of classics such as THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME or one of the greatest ghost stories ever made in America in A PORTRAIT OF JEANNIE, Dieterle, who was famed for his ability at handling crowd scenes, similarly excelled in slightly surreal subjects. One of many highly success German expatriates working in Hollywood, he incorporated into many of his films many techniques found in some of the classics of German Expressionism, none more than in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (originally released by the studio as ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY, based on the Stephen Vincent Benet short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster"). Not surprisingly, this film is most successful on a purely visual level, with one fascinating, almost gothic image after another. "Gothic" is an apt adjective, since Benet's original story was, of course, yet another of an endless succession of Faust tales, a story that stems itself from the late medieval period. The Faust tale has been cast and recast by a host of writers and artists from Marlowe to Goethe to Kierkegaard to Gounod, and this film rightfully takes its place among the more significant versions of the tale.

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER is not a perfect film, but it is a fascinating one. I think the virtues win out over the vices, but the vices are apparent. First, it is an oddly paced film. Usually editors have to take much of the blame for the rhythm and pace of a film, and what is unusual in this film is that the editor was one of the most celebrated in film history, Robert Wise, later a prominent director and previously the editor of CITIZEN KANE.
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Format: VHS Tape
This has to be one the most priceless films about the American experience, mixing metaphor and history. The story begins in one chilling scene in which the shadow of the Devil taunts the noble statesman Daniel Webster - you'll never be President if you stick to your pieties, warns Old Scratch. Switching gears, the Devil sets his sights on easier game - a barely solvent New Hampshire farmer named Jabez Stone, the sort of angry everyman who would sell his soul to the devil if things got too rough. (It's the middle of the 19th century, with the every-man for himself mentality that would nearly destroy the Union within the ten years). Stone's greed and desperation get the better of him, and he sells his soul for 7 years of boundless riches and good fortune - with advance paid from a sack of lost Hessian gold. Stone becomes wealthy, but also becomes less of the likeable guy and good neighbor his small New Hampshire town loved - replacing the hated Miser Stephens as the hamlet's chief creditor. The change attracts the attention of Dan Webster himself, New Hampshire's favorite son. Despite having second thoughts now and then, Stone remains steadfast in his ways, and makes no attempt to escape his fated damnation. When Stone appears to flag, Scratch manages to find an inducement - he can always collect immediately if he thinks Stone was trying to break the deal. Scratch hedges his bet, unleashing plagues of hail and other misfortunes for New Hampshire, bad luck that manages not to touch Stone. He also sends a sexy demon, Bel (Simone Simon of "Cat People") with a softer way of guaranteeing Stone's compliance. Where Webster fails to turn Stone on the right path, the sudden passage of seven years succeeds in swaying him. The Devil returns to claim Stone's soul.Read more ›
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