Movie Mirrors Index

The Devil and Daniel Webster

(1941 b 85')

En: 7 Ed: 8

Stephen Vincent Benet adapted his own story and play about a farmer who sells his soul to the devil; but defended by Webster, he gets to keep it.

A voice whispers to Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) he could be President. Webster speaks for the farmers. Jabez Stone (James Craig) tells his wife Mary Stone (Anne Shirley) they must sell their calf, and Mary is injured. Jabez spills grain and says he would sell his soul to the devil. Scratch (Walter Huston) comes to Jabez and offers him gold and seven years of good luck. Neighbors ask Jabez to join the grange; but he says no and signs with Scratch. Jabez shows Mary and Ma Stone (Jane Darwell) the gold. Jabez goes to miser Stevens (John Qualen) and pays off his mortgage. Jabez buys things. Jabez beats Webster at horseshoes and speaks, thanking Webster. Jabez loans Hank seed. Jabez hopes for a son, and Ma warns him of bad ways. Jabez changes his mind, but hail does not affect his grain. Scratch hires farmers to work for Jabez. Mary has a boy and names him Daniel. Jabez meets the seductive new maid Belle (Simone Simon). While Ma and Mary go to church, Jabez stays home with Belle and serves drinks to friends. They play cards, and Mary prays for Jabez.

Neighbors complain about Jabez exploiting them. Webster visits Mary, who is worried about Jabez being mean. Squire (Gene Lockhart) bets Jabez the $5,000 he owes him that Webster won't come to his party. Jabez has musicians in his new house with Belle, but no one comes. Webster learns that many owe Jabez money. Stevens arrives late and asks Jabez about souls. Belle's friends eat the food, and she dances with Stevens. Webster arrives and blames Jabez for the farmers' troubles. Jabez rages at Mary and chases his son out with her. Scratch tells Jabez that Stevens is an old customer, and Jabez sees that Stevens is dead. Jabez wants out, and Scratch asks for his son. Ma tells Jabez that he went with Mary and Webster. Jabez rides after them. Webster says he will fight the devil for Jabez.

Scratch arrives and drinks rum with Webster. Scratch shows him the contract. Webster says that Jabez is a citizen and asks for a jury trial. Scratch brings up famous criminals from below and Justice Hawthorne (H. B. Warner). Scratch submits the deed as evidence and questions Jabez. The judge does not let Webster cross-examine and says if Webster fails, he is doomed too. Webster speaks for Jabez and tells the jury they took the wrong way and should give him another chance. Webster speaks of freedom and says Jabez should own his own soul. The jury finds for Jabez, and Webster kicks out Scratch. Jabez hugs Mary and does not care his new house is burning. He tears up contracts, eats with friends, and says he'll join the grange. In the final scene Scratch steals pie, looks in his book, and points at the audience.

This parable suggests that loving money is selling oneself to the devil; but the statesman Webster defends the poor, arguing that American freedom means that all people own their own souls.

Copyright © 2002 by Sanderson Beck

Movie Mirrors Index

BECK index