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A down-on-his-luck farmer makes a deal with the devil for seven years of prosperity. When Mr. Scratch comes to collect, orator and hero of the common man Daniel Webster comes to the rescue.Written by
Little Pine Weasel <email@example.com>
Opening credits prologue: It' s a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire. It happened, so they say, a long time ago. But it could happen anytime - anywhere - to anybody . . . .
Over the years, this film was re-released more than once, partly because of its poor box office, and gradually cut down to 85 minutes. It remained in this form for many years, until it was recently restored to its full length. When this was done in the 1990s, it was unfortunately all too easy to tell which sections are restored... all the footage from the 85 minute version was in absolutely pristine, mint condition, while the long-lost, formerly missing footage has less than perfect sound and picture quality. However, the quality has been considerably improved on the DVD and on recent TV showings. See more »
First off, let me state that after viewing both versions of this film: the 85-minute and the 106-minute ones, both have their merits. For VHS, I recommend the shorter version. If you have the Criterion DVD with a 106-minute one, however, you have the best. I had seen both on tape but when I saw the longer version with a great DVD transfer, it convinced me the longer one is the version you want to see. It also seemed to improve the whole movie.
The Criterion DVD helped me appreciate the underrated black-and-white cinematography in this movie. It simply looks super, and even the special-effects are still pretty darned good considering the year this was made.
Character-wise, as so often is the case, the bad-guys are the most interesting in the movie. The best was Walter Huston playing "Scratch" (the Devil) and Simone Simon playing a female helper of his. Simon has the allure in this story to drive leading character "Jabez Stone" away from his sweet wife "Mary" (Anne Shirley).
Depressed and whining over his financial state of affairs and general lot in life, "Jabez" is ripe pickings for the wily "Scratch" and his cohort. The Devil makes Stone sign away his soul for money, prosperity, power, etc. Jabez gets carried away with his greed and winds up learning some valuable lessons.
Meanwhile, Edward Arnold plays "Daniel Webster," a folk hero during this time period, a man revered by all in New England. He winds up defending Jabez in a court-like scene i the end to see if he can win back the man's soul. Arnold is captivating in his role as Webster and gives an old-fashioned patriotic message at the end which would make today's Hollywood filmmakers sick.
Craig, who gets 12th billing in this film - go figure - has the most lines in the movie! How can be ignored, not only on the DVD and VHS boxes but on the bottom of the credits on this IMDb cast page? Craig overacts in his role and, thus, becomes a little annoying at times. Shirley might have been the most attractive I've ever seen here, mainly because of her strong, Christian character and down-home plain beauty that shines through in this character, Jabez's faithful wife "Mary." (She also gets slighted in the billing.)
Overall, this is a different story than anything you've seen. It's interesting, nicely directed by William Dieterle and photographed by Joseph August. Sadly, the latter died later in this decade with a heart attack. His last picture was another visual wonder: "Portrait Of Jennie."
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