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The Devil and Daniel Webster

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The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

What a sweet piece of work. Really good dialogue, and many well written and acted parts besides the obvious titular characters. Miser Stevens and Stone’s mother were very good, and especially Simone Simon as the demon nursemaid/mistress.

Three emotional qualities really stand out to me:

Funny: Walter Huston as ol’ Mr. Scratch was SO good. Very funny, cynical wit. Lots of little things that stand out from him, all the odd places he turns up. He’s everywhere, leading the band at the parade for Dan’l, in Washington whispering in the senator’s ear, playing a mean fiddle at the barn dance. His insults to Jabez Stone were priceless. The bit at the end of him ravenously devouring this huge pie was a really funny demonstration of his greed, and the final moments of examining his book for the next target are priceless.

Creepy: Between all the funny stuff were the implications of hell and damnation, but especially terror and hopelessness (Stone and Miser Stevens). The visitors at Stone’s new mansion really creeped me out good. Also creepy was the infamous scene where Miser Stevens recently harvested soul comes flying out of Scratch’s jacket pocket screaming for help. This also counts as funny, at least when my five year old nephew and I went around effecting high-pitched squeals begging “Help me Neighbor Stone.”

Sexy: Belle, the French demon/nanny/whore that Scratch sent Jabez was hotter with her clothes on and no direct sexual behavior than the hookers making out in the elevator to entertain Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. Note the exact tone and body language of her mocking rebuff to Stone at the barn dance saying “Oh, NO Mr. Stone- your place is with your WIFE.”

The hottest thing in the movie (and one of the creepiest things) is the scene where she is singing some evil otherworldly lullaby to Stone’s infant son. Rewind and watch it closely a couple of times. What was she singing?

Surely this is one of the greatest forgotten movies of the era. This should be making some of those AFI top 100 list thingeys.

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  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    I remember this movie! What a fantastic film! I wish it were available on DVD. Preferably for under $10.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Oh believe me, I’ve been looking for a DVD.

    By any reasonable standard, this 60+ year old film should long since be public domain, and available for $5 from numerous sources.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    True that. Then again, I bought an old Bruce Lee DVD from Madacy for cheap recently and in that case I got what I paid for – not much.

    But I bought a $5.88 Jackie Chan DVD at Wal-Mart and got a Chinese audio track, english subtitles, and a nice widescreen aspect ratio, just like I want, so I blame Madacy, not cheap DVDs in general.

    That would be a good price point for Daniel too, $5.88.

  • http://hotbuttereddeath.blogspot.com/ James Russell

    I frequent the alt.movies.silent newsgroup where Madacy is often spoken of, and never in good terms. As budget labels go, it is apparently the cheapest and nastiest you can get.

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