Film Club: What’s a little pain to a lucky man?

Regular Shadowplayer Guy Budziak has described THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER as particularly American, and this is so. We can trace the Americanism of the film in a variety of ways, some more cynical than others, beginning from its origins in the Faust myth. These symptoms of the American may sound a little cynical.

1) It’s Faust, but with an ordinary-joe hero instead of a great alchemist/sorceror.

2) It’s Faust, but with a happy ending.

3) It’s Faust, but with a smart lawyer.

4) The lawyer wins with an appeal to the emotions and patriotism rather than legal argument.

But there’s really a lot more to it than that. A socio-political message is bound up in a supernatural thriller plot, effectively amped up to the point where all seems conclusively lost, and then that happy ending is produced by what seem to be entirely fair means. And it ends with a flourish of wit.


As I’ve already mentioned, the DVD release contains scenes I’d never seen before, but looking at the IMDb cast list, I get the impression that missing sequences are still out there: we have credits for a “studio gateman” and a “guide” who don’t appear. Their names suggest a behind-the-scenes opening that would tie in with that first frame of Dieterle’s name printed on a scrim stretched across a massive light. Intriguingly, the guide was played by William Alland, Thompson the reporter (and the News on the March voice) in CITIZEN KANE, another tie between the two productions. Something about Alland must suggest a reliable guide through narrative labyrinths.

“It’s a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.”


Premature anti-fascism in credits! Suspiciously egalitarian…

The film DOES begin with a quote from Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story, although it’s a very brief one, dovetailing into a direct address to the audience (“It could even happen to YOU”) which will be picked up again at the film’s end, when Walter Huston looks in his little black book and finds US.

From here we have almost ten minutes of scenes previously unseen by me, cut apparently to reduce the prestige A-picture, which flopped, into a zippy B-picture, which might make some money. It’s remarkable how little these extra sequences add: screenwriters often write material intended to “introduce characters,” where in fact, if you remove these scenes, the beginning of the STORY will introduce the characters far more effectively. The only real suspense underlying the first minutes with Jabez Stone and his family is that pertaining to the mysterious figure with a little book, seen approaching the farm. (In an early example of Mr. Scratch’s supernatural powers, he will be seen tempting Daniel Webster in Washington before he actually arrives in Jabez’s barn.)


james Craig, and his slight, but nevertheless unpleasant, resemblance to George W Bush.

Might be time to address those central performances. Most of us can agree, I think, that they’re not the film’s best feature, to the point where we don’t really consider them “central” at all. But what’s wrong with them?

James Craig is very full-on, and this broad-brush “intensity” brings out the worst in his dialogue, consarn it. Anything that might sound a bit awkward DOES sound a bit awkward. Someone like Joel McCrea, or Henry Fonda would have smoothed over any clumsy moments in the script, and perhaps preserved a bit more likability during Jabez’s nastier moments. Instead, Craig hits every emotion hard, making instant transitions from one to another, like a cartoon, and always playing the most straightahead version of that emotion. Nothing is under the surface, everything is on the nose. It can make him hard to watch, although thankfully he also has good moments, and they tend to be during his character’s more sympathetic scenes, which is useful.


Anne Shirley is too much the wet rag, a fault of the writing, to be sure, but not an insuperable one. I’m not sure Olivia DeHavilland, suggested by Shadowplayer Jack Womack, would have been perfect, despite the fact that she’s worn the same hairstyle as Shirley. DeHavilland is an incredible actress, of course, but prone to the same kind of sweetness-and-light that makes the character of Mary Stone a little sickly. Somebody with an inherent nervous energy would get that woman up on her feet. The character does have one strength, besides her goodness (which is dramatically a bit dull) — she’s a pretty shrewd politician, suggesting things to her husband in such a mild way that he doesn’t feel pressured into accepting the ideas, considers them on their own merits, and then sees that she’s right. This makes her about as far from a feminist hero as you could possibly get, but it’s credible enough for the period, and suggests that the Stones would be pretty successful partnership as long as dumb old Jabez listens to his wife.


Buoying the opening sequence up is the majestic Jane Darwell, a true icon — the matriarch of all matriarchs. (I particularly like her terrifying Ma Grier in THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, a perfect shadow-image of benevolent Ma Joad in THE GRAPES  OF WRATH.) Her casting her is pretty much according  type, one could say (except that she was the daughter of a railroad president from Missouri in real life) but it works, and the genuine personality she projects supports the whole movie for about ten minutes.


Shadowplay! Huston tempts Arnold, in what used to be the film’s opening scene, and a very striking one. Here as elsewhere, Joseph August’s cinematography harks back to director Dieterle’s German expressionist background (he lumbers through the Murnau FAUST) with moody noir visuals.

In Huston and Arnold, we have the film’s true powerhouses. Huston, as Arthur S. observes, gets all the best lines, and delivers them with a roguish brio. His teeth are the whole show, like the front end of a skull trying to escape from his mouth. In TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE he performs sans dents, and it makes a whole other actor of him. Possibly Walter Brennan.


Walter Huston is possibly my favourite actor of all time. He’s not only effective in an impossibly wide variety of parts (basically, anything that doesn’t depend on conventional good looks), he can adapt his whole approach to acting to suit the role: he’s hammy here, in just the right way (remember his advice to his son: “Always give ’em a good show, and always travel First Class.”), but he can bring it right down. In RAIN he’s a truly horrible man, and he does it without any sort of actorly disguise to separate himself from the character. (Compare Mitchum in the original CAPE FEAR, playing himself, as pure evil, to DeNiro’s decorative but un-scary work in the remake. Huston could play it either way.) In KONGO he takes melodrama to a grotesque zenith of distorted hysteria that threatens to rip the film from its sprockets. In DODSWORTH he’s just wonderful.

Bribes department: if anybody wants my undying friendship, get me a recording of Huston’s rendition of September Song.

Edward Arnold, replacing an ailing Thomas Mitchell, is Daniel Webster, of whom Emerson wrote, “Every drop of his blood looked you in the eye.” Arnold credibly embodies that startling description. The folksy politician is a tricky figure to get right — I think some of us are smart enough to resist that kind of appeal to our simple souls, and we’ve had some pretty bad examples in recent years — but Arnold is compelling. In a way, we don’t have to believe in Webster’s honesty and goodness so much anyway, as in his competence. Arnold makes him a marvelous orator (kudos to the script here too), and holds the screen during a long climactic speech when Dieterle, for dramatic reasons, cannot cut to the listeners for a reaction shot.

If you have the DVD you can check the deleted scenes and see the rather astonishing interpolated shots of Huston, in negative, gloating over Jabez Stone’s misfortunes. Deleted after the preview, these brief shots (not quite subliminal, but still reminiscent of the demonic flash-frames in THE EXORCIST) must have freaked 1940s audiences out completely. Would a standard-issue member of the public in 1941 Pasadena even be able to interpret what they were seeing here?

Anyhow, with the Mephistophelean cutaways excised, the sequence still works — Craig is a little grating, but that adds to the oppressive feeling as his problems mount: in a couple of minutes, aided immeasurably but a slowly mounting cacophony of farmyard noise (recordist James G. Stewart was another veteran of KANE), Dieterle gives us a vivid sense of the weight of debt crushing the Stones. And then, a moment of silence. Enter Huston.


This is one of my very favourite movie entrances (and SO WHAT if Huston has already appeared twice), the pop-video backlighting and almost musical scoring of chicken clucks, and Huston’s sinister bonhomie, with the poise of a stage magician. Robert Wise cuts sharply, with a very quick cut of the gold bursting from out of the floor — so brief we don’t know if it’s real. Benet, writing with Dan Totheroh, uses most of Scratch’s dialogue from the story, and invents more of an equally high standard. Whenever I sign a contract, I always quote Stone: “What does it mean here, about my soul?”

(Other favourite entrances, you say? Karloff, backwards, in FRANKENSTEIN. Guinness, smirking behind his hat in THE LADYKILLERS. Joan Crawford, manning the threshold in the aforementioned RAIN. Oh, there are too many…)


“What a beautiful sunset,” says Huston, in a confidential tone that seems to carry some special meaning.

I must confess I always found the scene where Jabez reveals the gold to his family to be somewhat odd. Mary can’t take it in, which is fair enough (and she did just hit her head moments ago, which Jabez has completely forgotten), but Ma’s skeptical attitude to the evidence of her own senses is downright peculiar. It’s appropriate to the morality-tale genre that Ma shouldn’t be overly impressed by wealth, but having established these folks as salt-of-the-earth normal people, the filmmakers have a hard time convincing me that Ma would take this momentous news in her style. But the scene has a rather surreal feeling to it as a result, which is quite nice.

Into town. Any community with Gene Lockhart as a civic leader is clearly in trouble. John “production for use” Qualen is magnificent as Miser Stevens — is “Miser” his actual first name? This underrated character player could be the nasal weasel or the squirming worm, sadistic or pathetic — here he’s a bit of both. Presumably he was once a truly upright citizen, because even at his worst, he’s not as obnoxious as Jabez will become.


Daniel Webster’s visit to town allows for a fun visit from Mr Scratch, who bests him in the first round, slipping him a supernatural mickey of some kind in his Medford rum. We also have a cameo from wee Sonny Bupp, familiar from his role as Charles Foster Kane III. His gee-wiz line readings are a little forced: maybe he’s been studying under James Craig.

Despite having sold his soul to the devil, Jabez still manages to make a rousing speech on Webster’s behalf. An interesting point: Scratch hands him this opportunity, and apparently lends him the loquacity to make the most of it, and it’s the beginning of Stone’s influence in the community, which will be used entirely for bad ends. But Webster himself quotes approvingly from the speech near the end of the story, which seems wrong somehow.

All the stuff with Gene Lockhart’s flustered squire trying to organize an incompetent band looks forward to Franklin Pangborn in HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO. Here, Lockhart is basically a comedy twerp, whereas later we will see him gambling on the Sabbath etc with Jabez, suggesting that Stone’s corruption exerts a malign influence on the weaker men around him, part of the film’s civic side: personal corruption infects the political sphere, because politics is made of people. (I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I’m a confirmed sabbath-breaker myself, but it seems to be the film’s stance.)

Scratch walking through the farmyard at night is another additional scene — I might overlook the previous cuts, since they tighten the pace and don’t hurt the narrative, but a frame less of of Huston is an undoubted crime. He has a number of nice little moments in the longer version, cruelly cast aside in the B-movie cut.


Ah, fecundity! I love love love the dissolve from a wheatfield to Anne Shirley, lying in bed pregnant. Perhaps an example of the kind of ingenuity triggered by unreasonable censorship restrictions? If you can’t even say the word “pregnant,” this kind of silent-movie symbolism presents itself as an elegant solution.

At this point, Jabez is still bothered by his conscience, allowing Jane Darwell a fine speech about what happens “if a man gets his money in bad ways.” But soon we will launch headlong into the section of the film I call “The Asshole Variations,” in which our hero becomes a monstrous collection of boorish traits. Craig’s less appealing qualities as an actor fuse rather nicely with the character’s moral decay, letting us hate the guy pretty thoroughly for a reel or so. But would it help if the actor had enough charisma to keep us more invested in him? I’m not sure it matters that much here, oddly enough.

Another appearance by Huston, nicking a bunch of carrots, tightens the noose around Jabez’s neck. Being an adaptable sort of chap, since he can’t escape his contract, Jabez will soon embrace damnation with apparent enthusiasm. Huston is delicious: “I shan’t even come to the christening; it would be tactless and in wretched bad taste.”


The Harvest Dance, coinciding with the birth of that promising young fellow, Daniel Stone, gives us Bernard Herrmann’s showiest scene. His jaunty devil theme makes me warm all over, and his sonorous leitmotif honouring “the land,” is beautiful, but the manic version of Pop Goes the Weasel, fiendishly lit by August and cut together by Wise with savage abandon, is a real show-stopper. What gets us into this ebullient swing, of course, is Simone Simon.

Censorship is apparently powerless when faced with a performance like Simon’s as “Belle Dee.” Viciously sexual, she uses her accent like a cute gun. A snub-nose. Her third word in the film is actually “gun” — well, it’s “gone,” but she pronounces it “gun.” Backlighting her with an infernal glow from the fireplace is arguably going too far, but it’s part of the aesthetic of a good Dieterle film to take everything too far.


(I’m reminded of my favourite Christopher Walken story. He sees a lighting guy adjusting a reflector at his feet. “What are you doing” he asks, without the aid of a question mark — for Walken is beyond punctuation. “Oh, ah, we’re just going to bounce a little light up at your face, make you look sinister,” says the technician. Walken: “You don’t need to do that.”)

SS is a pretty interesting figure, and I find it hard to assess her qualities as an actress. Maybe I need to stop masturbating first.

That’s better. SS is certainly a different player in her native tongue, where she sounds like everybody else. In English we get these odd line readings. I’m sure she’s a far better actress than Jean Harlow (my God, can you imagine her speaking French?), but when Simon speaks English you get these strange inflections which are comparable to Harlow’s effective and at times endearingly awkward way with dialogue.

Since I have, for some reason, an aging French fanzine called Atomvision to hand, I’ll quote the SS interview therein, by way of Babelfish. She’s talking about how Val Lewton saw her in this film before he cast her in CAT PEOPLE.

it m’ had seen in ATMCB, a film in which I represented the devil. This film was carried out by the dad of John Huston who was also a marvellous actor. He played the devil but unfortunately I n’ did not have scene with him and that m’ much sadness had. In short, Valley Lewton m’ had seen in this film that j’ had turns in April 1941.

Strange. Although she can remember the month of filming, she seems to think Walter Huston was the director.

“She’s nice,” says Mary Stone, proving Dennis Potter’s point that truly good people are ill-equipped to recognize the Devil.


Jabez goes a bit Michael Jackson when his son is born. And indeed, he will shortly build an outlandish mansion, court celebrity friends and have questionable sleepovers. He doesn’t sing Earth Song, though, so we can forgive him. The other figure he resembles is George W Bush, not just facially (perhaps he looks more like Josh Brolin playing Bush), but in his gigantic obnoxiousness later: reminiscent of Bush’s gloating fratboy side.

Brilliant and rather dirty scene, with Jabez pausing at the randy Belle Dee’s bedroom door. He’s not quite wicked enough yet to just march in and have her. Suddenly Huston is there, leaning in the window. He gives his hand one firm shake, and sends him on his way to lay her like a carpet. This is probably the best bit removed from the shorter version.

A rich and varied display of loutishness follows from Jabez — once a man’s indulged in satanism and adultery, it’s a short step to fishing on the Sabbath. A plot thread entirely absent from the short cut is his spoiling of his son, Daniel. It takes a visit from big Daniel to set the lad on the straight and narrow with an efficient bout of spanking. Not sure how I feel about this. I grew up with the threat of corporal punishment looming over my head — at school rather than at home. It seems positively Dickensian now. I never saw anybody “corrected” by it. I think a few timorous kids like me were kept in line by the fear of it, but I don’t think anybody was ever taught a valuable lesson by having their palm skelped by a bully three times their size.

Slightly awkward exposition by Jeff Corey and friends (including Scotsman Alec Craig, no relation to the film’s star). Gathering the bit players and having them discuss the plot is a rather hackneyed, 19th century theatre device. But it’s a minor blemish. (Hope it doesn’t look like I’m down on the film. It’s a favourite.)


The next really great bit is of course the “party” where Miser Stevens is “collected.” Belle and Scratch technically DO share a scene together, but they don’t interact. This has the moment that seems to have inspired CARNIVAL OF SOULS, and some great uncanny sound work. Herrmann’s low tonalities during all the Scratch scenes have a wonderfully sinister effect, evocative of Halloween hauntings and bad dreams, and the danse macabre once again allows him to take centre stage.

Fantastic dialogue re moths.

The combination of Herrmann’s score and the RKO sound department’s work on the supernatural scenes is so richly evocative and eerie and beautiful… it stands comparison with any of the rightly celebrated sound and music work in CITIZEN KANE. I guess the only thing we don’t get here is the artful linking of scenes, mostly done via dialogue in KANE (where the phrases “Merry Christmas!” & “- and a Happy New Year!” link two scenes fifteen years apart) so that TDADW never quite attains the propulsive effect of Welles’ work — until the climax.

vlcsnap-72738“In the midst of life…”

Herrmann’s very on-the-nose, synchronized Mickey-Mousing of Jabez trying to cut down a tree (upon which is written his expiration date) really bumps up the energy, and then there’s a slightly conventional carriage chase — it looks too much like a B-western to me, perhaps because Mother Nature has been evoked largely in the studio until this point — but I like Belle’s last moment, which is ambiguous and weird. Despite Huston making it plain that she’s his agent, she’s always seemed slightly detached from the Faustian plot, her brand of wickedness more pleasurable than “all that money can buy” — and she’s from “over the mountains,” which sounds quite nice, rather than from “Hell,” which I have to admit sounds like a less agreeable holiday destination.


Ah, the trial. Here, the script can fall back on the story most closely, since Benet fleshes his climax out more than any other section of the narrative. Again, brilliant sound work, including the wheezing echo of a laugh that sounds from the “Jury of the Damned” (kudos to anyone who can find a YouTube clip of The Simpsons’ version of this) and an artfully crafted ramping up of peril, so that all seems utterly lost (“Lost and gone, lost and gone,”) until it’s suddenly not. Never liked that crack about “If two New Hampshire men aren’t a match for the Devil we may as well give this country back to the Indians,” since it implies that that would be a ridiculous thing to do. Mr. Scratch is more attuned to modern thought: “When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there,” which is a fairly progressive admission for an era when Colonel Custer was still being portrayed as a hero.

H.B. Warner as Justice Hathorne — seems like a shame he never got to play the part in The Crucible. He’s definitive! The Siren points out that the composition of the jury is different in the film, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to interpret the changes. Some of the descriptions of jurors seem to downplay their socio-political relevance in the film, but Benedict Arnold is merely name-checked in the story, and he actually sits on the jury in the film. I guess he’s somebody most Americans can agree upon. On the political side, Shadowplayer David Fiore (AKA Anagramsci) points out that the film has rewritten Webster as a champion of the poor, which seems to be far from the truth. The short story is vaguer about Webster’s actual politics, while the movie simply creates a fictional Webster out of whole cloth. Not sure what to think about that…

Webster kicking Scratch out the door is well done, and here there’s a good bit of material about the future which the film omits. It does get the short story into more uncomfortable areas. Told that he will make an unpopular speech, Benet has Webster say, “So long as it is an honest speech, it does not matter what men say.” The speech appears to be the one supporting slavery. I think it’s sensible of the movie to simply omit all this. The fictional Webster would never make that speech, I want to feel.

Coda: rather neatly judged. Satan is too charismatic to be as soundly banished as he is in the story, but we need some relief for the Stone family. The jolly laughter round the breakfast table could easily become intolerable, though, but here comes Mr. Scratch with his little book…


“It could even happen to YOU…”

There’s more, much more, to be said, but I’ll leave it to you. Also, I may have more Dieterle posts later in the week: I’ve barely scratched the surface with him. Next week’s movie is LE MEPRIS: feel free to suggest more, and start getting your hands on that one now!


83 Responses to “Film Club: What’s a little pain to a lucky man?”

  1. Andrew Coats Says:

    Nice review Mr Cairns, although I am deeply scarred by the thought of you masturbating. Here are my top ten moments from The Devil and Daniel Webster. I’ll try and keep them in chronological order.

    1. The pig – I love to see someone holding on to a squealing piglet. After this I settled down and knew the rest of the film was going to be a treat. (There was a great moment of TV a couple of years ago when David Dimbebly caught a piglet and held it aloft)
    2. Glory my pants!
    3. Daniel Webster’s first appearance. Wonderful. They should have kept it as the first scene.
    4. Webster falling asleep – brilliant, I’m going to do that every time someone asks me for a speech.
    5. Hailstones/axe/carrot – The hailstones like Ping-Pong balls and the axe bursting in to flames, proof if it was needed that the devil is ‘The Man’.
    6. The gambling vs. church scenes. The church scene- cold, hard and presided over by the most boring preacher in the known world. The gambling scene-warm, fun and features an interesting way of shuffling the cards.
    7. Baby horse- I may have no control over my arse of a son but I can comfort a baby horse, oh no, now even that’s fucked off.
    8. The dance at the party- The music, the sound, the visuals, gave me the chills.
    9. The trial was amazing. I love stuff like that. That close up of Webster (this is it buddy). The speech was comparable to senator clay Davis’ (sheeeeeeeeiiiiiit) speech to turn the jury in The Wire. It also reminded me of ‘A Matter of Life and Death.
    10. ‘It could be you…’ I was satisfied after the pie gag but when Huston pointed at me I was a happy man indeed.

  2. Thanks, Jadean!
    Agree with all your faves, Andrew. This must surely have been some influence on A Matter of life and Death. The other key movie there is Lang’s Liliom, which has heaven, bells ringing, heaven as bureaucracy. None of this is to impugn the imaginations of P&P, of course.

  3. Let me say first of all that I love this film and Walter Huston gives one of my all-time favourite performances. In 2007 I wrote a piece on it for a Scotsman competition to win an EIFF pass in which I described him as ‘playing the devil as a malevolent leprechaun with a grin as wide as Julia Roberts’. (I didn’t win.)

    One of the many things that interests me about it is the political context in which it appeared. Its release date was 17 October 1941, just seven weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour. Given the nature of the rhetoric it ends with, and the fact that Dieterle was a German emigre, I’d like to know how much the makers were consciously advocating the entry of the US into WW2. Can anyone shed any light on this?

    By chance this week I’ve been revisiting the work of DW Griffith, and noticed that Birth of a Nation’s last intertitle is a quote from Daniel Webster: ‘Liberty and union, one and inseparable, now and forever’ – which is a little hard to reconcile with what precedes it.

    In 1930 Walter Huston played the title in Griffith’s biopic of Abraham Lincoln and, while it’s not a great film, he provides yet another example of his astonishing versatility.

  4. Walter H also appears in a short discussion with Griffith, appended to Birth of a Nation when it was rereleased in the sound era. My grandmother must have seen Broken Blossoms around that time, as she reported that ’30s audiences couldn’t take it seriously.
    Given Griffith’s other views, it’s surprising that he admired Lincoln so much, but such contradictions are a small saving grace in a man who did so much damage with one film.
    As discussed above, Webster’s real-life politics fit in fairly neatly with those of Birth of a Nation…
    As to whether the film is advocating America’s entry into the war, it’s certainly true that a few other films did. But what aspects of the film do you see addressing this? It’s definitely advancing a specific kind of noble Americanism, but foreign affairs are not discussed.

  5. Well this is jolly! First time I had seen the film, though it was on the list, so thanks for pushing it to the top. Lots of fun, and I was struck by some of the things that have already been mentioned: the entrances of Huston, the parallels with the P&P, and so on. It’s a lovely looking movie, especially when things take a turn to the dark side, and Huston, of course, is endlessly enjoyable.

    One thing that struck me was how very HANDS ON Huston’s Devil is. Admittedly, he does send Simon as seductress, but that’s not something he could really manage (or COULD he? That’d make a very different film…). It’s a different devil than the one in Bergman’s DEVIL’S EYE for example, who is content to send his minions into the field and watch from a distance. Huston is a satanic figure who really seems to enjoy his work, and as that phenomenal final scene shows, the setback in the courtroom hasn’t robbed him of his appetite for the job (or his appetite, come to think of it!) If you compare him to the lonely, disaffected George Spiggott of BEDAZZLED, another Faustian romp, it makes being the Devil seem much more fun.

    Jebez’s speech is a funny thing, as you mention. It’s obvious that Scratch engineers the opportunity for him to make the speech by getting Webster drunk, but all that really causes is Webster to make friends with Stone, and leads to Scratch’s defeat. Could it be that Scratch is trying to engineer a friendship that he can later manipulate? That makes the title of the movie make more sense – the whole film is then about that tussle between Scratch and Webster. You could even argue that the first scene of the devil and Webster, where Webster casts him away, is a memory of defeat that Scratch has while he is walking to the Stone farm to put his long term game into place.

  6. Great stuff Mr. Cairns!

    James Craig was the particular obsession of Myra Breckinridge, who took copious note of his performance in Marriage is a Private Affair — a Lana Truner vechicle helmed by MGM’s most stalwart house director Robert Z. Leonard and written by Ring Lardner Jr. with uncredited dialogue revisions by Tennesee Williams. It was obviously a nod to his good pal Tennessee (who described the experience as “I am currently embroidering a celluloid brazziere for Miss Lana Turner”) that inspired the reference. But I suspect that Gore may have had a thing for James Craig.

    Bonus Points: On his DEATHBED Ring Lardner Jr. complained that they had taken his fine script and turned it into a Lana Turner vehicle! A tad ungrateful if you ask me. In any event the best thing in the film is a scene where Lana does the rhumba.

    Cannot wait for Le Mepris. The greatest of all Godard film it was aparticular obsession of the film crowd I hung with in the 60’s. In point of fact I met Marty Scorsese when we both emerged froma screening overwhelmed by the majesty of it all.

    a suivre

  7. This was my first time seeing the film, too, and I loved it–thanks for pushing me (on a weekend that was otherwise completely overwhelmed with the horrors of repainting our condo!).

    Your post and the comments mentioned most of the things that most struck me, but here are some other thoughts:

    1. I love the way the New England spring is shown as being mostly mud. There’s the mud he falls in, the muddy puddles in the ruts on the road, the muddiness in town. Life’s just like that in 1840s New England.

    2. Actually, the whole film does really well by seasons, all of which are conveyed beautifully and are important to the tone of the scenes they dress up.

    3. I kept picturing James Craig as Elvis. Granted, even Craig’s limited range was more than we generally saw from Elvis (or than he was generally asked for), but they do share an aw-shucks straightforwardness that grates a bit.

    4. I also liked picturing William Sanderson playing Miser Stevens.

    5. David, in response to your point about the awkwardness of the scene when Jabez shows his wife and mother the money: I saw the mother’s response as of a piece with her reaction to Belle’s arrival, sort of an extension of the folk tale tone. She’s almost sure from the very start where this money’s come from. She’s old enough to have seen all this before, in general if not in specific, and while she never expected to see her son fall prey, ultimately she’s not surprised by human failings.

    6. Speaking of Belle: love, love, love that entrance. It actually scared me–you see the bright fire light as he comes down the stairs, so you start to think there’s something wrong, then her turn is magnificent.

    7. Finally: I dreamed about the movie last night, only Anthony Quinn was one of the farmers . . . and he carried a harpoon around.

  8. David Boxwell Says:

    I can’t add much to DC’s thorough account of all my favorite bits and members of the team (Herrmann, Wise, Simon, Stewart, Huston), but a major problem with Craig is that he doesn’t sound like he’s from New England, and his accent isn’t neutral enough to work either, as a default. When he arrived in Hollywood he no doubt had a pronounced Tennessee/Appalachian accent, which coaching would have tamed, but he still, as he does in all his films, have a countrified twang still present, just muted. Of course, even a solid mid-Atlantic accent (like William Powell’s) wouldn’t have been any more authentic, since all regional accents were eradicated by the studios. Audiences in 1941 may not have even accepted a strong Yankee accent from even the best actor.

    All the time I was watching I was thinking of Welles and Lewton. What a phenomenal crew of talent RKO had on the lot circa 1940-1944, all of them given more freedom than most studios allowed at the time, since there was no kingpin running the show (like Cohn, Mayer, or Zanuck).

    Fun game: how many degrees of separation between DEVIL and LE MEPRIS?

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    One answer: Gene Lockhart, in DEVIL also in Lang’s HANGMEN ALSO DIE (43).

  10. […] UPDATE! Here is the actual Film Club post. […]

  11. Jack Womack Says:

    Herrmann’s score throughout is utterly brilliant throughout, but my three favorite passages:

    1. During the seque from wheatfield to Mary, lying in bed, following the nature sequence. Did Herrmann later take this and rework it for Vertigo?
    2) The Barndance-in-Hell sequence, and the underlay of telephone wire hum BH evidently added.
    3) The waltz (was this where he employed a glass harmonium, as I have also heard?)

    The way Huston’s hat, so similar to Craig’s is set so as to give the suggestion of little horns. The way Huston, at moments, plays Scratch as Uncle Sam’s evil twin. The way his expression slowly shifts from humor to disappointment to malice as Craig makes it clear he’s not going to give up his son. The way Huston bounces into the tavern, following the hailstorm. “Cider.” (pause) “Hard.” The way he perches in the barn, chawing on carrots. The delivery of every single one of his lines, but in particular (beyond the aforementioned, and amazingly ominous, “What a beautiful sunset.”)

    “Speech, Mister Webster. Speech.”

    “I find your mother rather difficult.”

    “An overpowering lassitude — a deep, enveloping sleep.”

    His delivery of Benet’s “When the first wrong….” and continuing through “When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck…true, the South claims me for a Northerner, and the North for a Southerner…”

    His wonderfully underplayed “Americans, all.”

    “Oh, you’ll never be President, I’ll see to that.”

    And yep, the entire dialogue re: Miser Stevens, and the moth, and immediately before — “He was.” “In the midst of life one hates to close these longstanding accounts.”

    The pat on Craig’s shoulder as he says “I could put you in my vest pocket.”

    The trial sequence terrified me first time I saw this movie, at age 11, a post-midnight viewing on the Louisville station (I thought I must have first heard of the film via Carlos Clarens, but a quick check of my Illus History of the Horror Film shows that his comment on the film are minimal — could I have possibly heard of it via Famous Monsters?? Hard to imagine, but…). Along with some of the more enigmatic (“Morton the vicious lawyer” anyone?) I was even then familiar with Big & Little Harpe, who were notorious Kentucky/Ohio river bandits — if I recall correctly the line on Big Harpe was that when he was finally caught, his captors were cutting his head off while he shouted “go ahead and do your worst.”

    For years imagined and wondered what could possibly have been cut (and like DC I think there was likely even more herein, at one point; the edit following the townspeople talking about the changes in Craig “like the Bible talks about” is still amazingly bad); and so when finally all was readded — I suspect my reaction was the same as most; can’t say that I would have missed much of anything, save for the two evening appearances of Scratch — the one mentioned above, and the quick shot of him walking across the snowy farm lot, in the moonlight, giving a little wave to Craig).

    Simone Simon. I’d already seen Cat People and Curse of the Cat People by this time (thank you, Louisville TV stations) and was already in love. The look on the baby’s face as she sings to it, and calms it down, is really unexpectedly creepy. “From over the mountain.” The way she dances Miser Stevens to death…..

    (I realize any time I see Sunset Boulevard, I always think of the party scene in D and DW when New Year’s Eve comes around; of course)

    Just really going off the top of my head here; this has been one of my favorite US movies since I first saw it, and have always been amazed at how underappreciated it was. Though I’ve seen it at least twenty and perhaps thirty times, I have never seen it in a theater — during the glory days here in NYC, back when we had the Thalia, Bleecker Street, Carnegie Hall, etc., it seemed never to appear, though I suspect I just missed it; and know that it’s been at Film Forum in more recent times.

    At odd moments, as with my earlier recasts, have imagined Charles Laughton doing Daniel Webster. But Edward Arnold is really marvelous in the role; am not sure how Mitchell would have come across, throughout, but then my problem with Mitchell is that any time I think of him I think “Katie Scarlett O’Hara” and beg off….

    Jane Darwell, beautiful throughout as she always was. And her “FOUND IT IN THE BARN, EH?” is so perfectly delivered…

    All for now, but just needed to get in a wide and rambling series of unconnected thoughts. Heavens, I love this movie.

    (And as for Walter, let us not forget Gabriel Over the White House…)

  12. First Duvivier, now Dieterle. Shadowplay is Action Central for the overlooked and underappreciated.

  13. I actually saw James Craig as playing L’il Abner, another aw-shucks farmboy broadly drawn. Note that both Simon and Huston share the same mirthful, beatific smile, vividly broadcasting their love for their work. And we never do learn what happens to Dorothy, she just… disappears (more to come later).

  14. Li’l Abner–yes! That’s it! With a dash of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers–I kept expecting a song!

    And you’re right, too, about Belle and Scratch’s love of their work. That’s the ultimate genius of Huston’s performance: rather than choosing to rely on menace, he choose joy, and that makes him far, far more menacing than the former would have.

  15. I think Gene Lockhart is as direct a link as we’re likely to find! That’s 2 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

    Looking at the birthplaces of the main cast, it seems like nobody would have the right accent. But Craig’s is the most grating. One of the old farmers seems to be from Northern Ireland, but that’s possible. In general, 19th century American-set films underrate the amount of immigration going on.

  16. Ahah! Simon Simon is in La Femme en Bleu with Michel Piccoli, which is likewise two degrees of KB.

  17. I see that James Craig is in Dieterle’s Kismet, as a Caliph — perhaps WD wasn’t too bothered by his accent. He’s also in While the City Sleeps, making another connection to Lang and Le Mepris.

    I agree with all your favourite Huston line readings, Jack, and agree that the pleasure he takes in his work — indeed, in just being alive (“What a beautiful sunset”) — makes him all the more menacing.

    Belle is apparently moving on at the end of the story, and seems to offer Jabez an alternative route to hell — perhaps a more pleasant one?

    Levi, I can imagine a very fine version of the Faust myth featuring Elvis. Walter Huston as Colonel Tom Parker/Mephistopheles.

  18. Lizabeth Scott plays a version of Col. Tom Parker in Loving You.

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    Let no man/woman/child/ forget who suggested this opening session of Film Club…ME!!!!! Necessary bit of Narcissism aside…

    Great piece. I must say that even I thought of Michael Jackson when I saw that! You know a modern remake of the film can be done by yoking it with a Brechtian biopic of MJ – He sells his soul to Mr. Scratch for everything. He’s a Faustian figure, he wanted it all, patterning himself as white, prince, Jesus, Fred Astaire and lest we forget, he sat on the Beatles catalogue charging exhorbitantly so that few movies, if any, get to use the original recordings. May he burn in hell for that! Incidentally, the real life Johannes Faust around whom the legend is spun was a suspected paedophile. Only the ending of MJ is more like Marlowe’s DR. FAUSTUS then Goethe’s FAUST II. The improbable happy ending is actually already there in the greatest work of German Literature. The ending of Murnau’s FAUST has a more probable and acceptable happy ending as David E.noted in his commentary.

    One point of comparison between FAUST and Dieterle’s film is that Dieterle’s film is about the corruption of a small town on account of Jabez’s misdeeds whereas in Murnau, Faust’s actions don’t make the town corrupt but rather reveal the corruption already there. William Dieterle who gets killed in the original film damns his sister with his dying breath for committing premarital sex and then the town inficts cruelty on the poor girl of the most brutal and inhuman sort. And Faust of course as played wonderfully by Gosta Ekman is a tragic figure since his selfless acts to save his town, giving his soul in exchange for the power to protect them end up getting spat on his face. In short, Gosta Ekman is a better Faust than James Craig and Walter Huston is a meaner Mephisto than Emil Jannings.

    THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER is actually reminscent of THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS in it’s slow and gradual corruption of a rural community on account of modernization. The obvious difference is in class and of course the story, the latter is a realistic film while Dieterle’s film is a morality play. But again it’s about the degradation of a certain kind of America – THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER shows this degradation as coming from an insatiable recklessness and drive for power in pursuit of wealth and expansionism, while THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS is about an internal degradation resulting from the only institution Dieterle’s film wholeheartedly supports, the family. By casting James Craig in the role, they make his adultery unjustifiable but they could have complicated it by showing a certain sympathy towards him and towards Simone Simon(I must say that I only truly loved her in LA BETE HUMAINE). But then if he cast better that might have worked.

    The power of casting is precisely your observation of John Qualen’s character. Yes he’s a schemer and a swindler but we like him because he’s played by a better actor. That scene where he talks to Jabez before his final waltz is truly haunting, that close-up on his face as he talks about his soul. His remorse is sincere, albeit tempered by fears of dying while Jabez’s is driven purely out of fear. And yet he’s damned and Jabez is saved…divine justice isn’t fair after all. This is different from Murnau’s Faust where the hero upon seeing Gretchen on the stake forgets everything about his contract and rushes towards her, driven by love and unselfish instincts, thereby reclaiming his humanity all by his own actions.

    And of course legally speaking that trial is baloney. By law, he should be damned and accept it like a man.

    Incidentally Judge Hathorne is the ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthone who added the “w” to distance himself from the family curse that he was ashamed of, and the guilt of a past of misdeeds and crimes haunts his fiction. The actor who plays him is intense and actually reminscent of Ralph Fiennes in the Harry Potter films.

  20. Arthur S. Says:

    It’s interesting that some of you mentioned THE CRUCIBLE, the key cinematic influence on that masterpiece of American Theatre is of course Carl Dreyer’s DAY OF WRATH. And there’s a similar feel in the domestic scenes of the early portions, the way Joseph August(a truly great DP – Borzage’s MAN’S CASTLE, NO GREATER GLORY, John Ford’s THE INFORMER, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE among others) feels very Dreyeresque, that and the strong Protestant sensibility that comes through in this film, Protestant in the cultural sense in Dieterle’s case while in the religious sense vis-a-vis C. Th. Dreyer.

    Lizabeth Movin(who for me is a true erotic presence rather than Simone Simon who is merely a sign of sexiness rather than an incarnation of it) in the Dreyer is a mixture of Anne Shirley and Simone Simon and of course has a better role and gives a better performance. I wonder how much interesting this film could be if they didn’t divvy up the sexual angle into the classical madonna and whore. But then this is an American film and that’s common enough in that kind of village and the middle class world to which Jabez Stone aspires.

  21. Arthur S. Says:

    Incidentally, getting back to the Murnau connection. On the MOC edition, Bill Krohn talks about how Murnau creates tension in the Faust-Mephisto relationship by bathing Mephisto in light and Faust in shadows in their encounters.

    In The Devil…, in their first meeting at the barn(or the second one) the same thing happens, it’s a two-shot, Scratch at the left, Jabez on the right and Scratch is lit with a sunlamp while Jabez is steeped in shadows.

  22. La Faustin Says:

    No need to IMAGINE Jean Harlow speaking French – in the closing sequence of RED HEADED WOMAN, she manages well enough for her own Harlowy purposes (as per Margot Asquith, the T is silent).

    Has it already been mentioned that the chilling “When the first wrong …” speech derives from “Young Goodman Brown”, written a little over a century before Benet’s story by Nathaniel Hawthorne (great great grandson of Judge John Hathorne!).

    And speaking of premature anti-fascism, the what about the numerous (anachronistic) references to the grange movement?

  23. Jack Womack Says:

    Certainly one reason the restored opening seems so interminable (especially to kick-backable old timers such as ourselves who recall the opening w/Arnold & Huston’s shadow) is that so much focus is put on the Grange movement, which yes — which wasn’t organized till 1867. Now I note that at the end his fellow farmers note that “maybe now you’ll join *our* grange,” as if this is more of a local organization, but I have no idea if local groups preceeded the national.

    John Qualen is almost always excellent but yes, in this he manages to evoke far more sympathy than his character should by any rights have. His whispered “don’t say that” when Craig/Jabez talks about the soul meaning nothing, combined with his profoundly sad expression hits hard.

    (The similarity of the moth’s “Help me Jabez Stone” called to mind “HEEELLLP MEEEE” from the conclusion of The Fly, of course, the first time I saw it…)

    RKO must have been some place to work, back then. Am I recalling correctly that Gene Lockhart was one of those who very much didn’t like Orson Welles coming to town and getting free reign to make Citizen Kane? Have it in my head that he’d do a version of something called “Little Orphan Orson” at parties, this of course before CK actually came out. Have never seen a text, but can imagine.

    The Revolutionary War veteran, played for semi-comic effect, seen during to and in the parade, is a lovely touch; I think the last survivors of that war died just before the Civil War. Also such touches as the references to new bonnets just like in “Godey’s Lady’s Book.” Which again makes you wonder about the Grange/grange.

    And yet another great WH moment: pounding away at the big drum, in the parade, cigar in mouth, hat cocked. I have a hunch that Huston had almost as much fun playing the role as Scratch, the character, does.

  24. David Boxwell Says:

    James Agee complained in his review of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE for The Nation that Simon was inappropriately “adult” for a child’s fantasy, “a failure of taste” in lighting and costume he said, which provoked audience laughter. But that was a “a regular Times Square horror audience.” For me, she is a perfect emanation of a little girl’s imagination, which Barbie so effectively taps into.

    I wonder if audiences gasped in awe at her first incarnation in DEVIL, as I did. (The fantastic, eerie music-sound accompanying her image would forestall laughter, I think).

    Morvin and her character were organic to the setting of the film. Simon is perfect casting since she is unassimilable on so many levels, not the least of which is that she is “French.” (The only non-American in the cast, right?)

  25. Faustin, you’re right, I was forgetting her scene with Charles Boyer.

    I did not know that about the Nathaniel Hawthorne swipe. This all ties together beautifully!

    HB Warner (Hathorne) played “Jesus the Christ” in DeMille’s King of Kings. And he turns up as a poker player in Sunset Blvd, mentioned above.

    Arthur is right that the Madonna-Whore schism doesn’t help either actress here, although Simone manages to imbue her role with some mystery and, strangely, sympathy. Probably just by being cute.

    The darkness/light pattern is fascinating, especially as Jabez, emerging from daylight, should be more backlit than Scratch, emerging from the depths of the barn, naturalistically speaking. Dieterle can’t help but have been influenced by Murnau here.

  26. David Boxwell Says:

    I’m looking at some ad (probably taken from the press-book) reproduced in Herve Dumont’s book on Dieterle, which shows Anne Shirley sporting a 1941 hairstyle (the “pompadour”), which makes her look “sexier” than in the film–less like Olivia and more like Betty Grable–she’s depicted as ready to lay a big smooch on James Craig’s cheek.

  27. Agee’s a great writer but I disagree with him 90% of the time. Simone DOES look like a little girl’s imaginary princess.

    I’m fascinated by these bold anachronisms. Throw in everything the audience might have heard of from this approximate period — as long as it’s within fifty years or so.

    The Grange is the film’s strongest political element, and seems like a unionist, left-wing kind of cause. It’s not local: when Jeff Corey shows up it seems he’s traveled from another state, so it is the large organization known from later history.

    I don’t know for sure about Gene Lockhart and Welles. A shame if he was unsympathetic, he’s a fine actor, and I could see him fitting nicely into something like Ambersons or The Stranger.

  28. Jack Womack Says:

    Young Goodman Brown (

    “Such company, thou wouldst say,” observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. “Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that’s no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake.”

    Am reminded of Ambrose Bierce’s revision of the opening lines of “My Country Tis Of Thee” (God Save the King/Queen to those of you abroad…):

    My country tis of thee
    Sweet land of felony
    Of thee I sing
    Land where my fathers fried
    Young witches and applied
    Whips to the Quaker’s hide
    And made him spring.

  29. Ah, Bierce, now you’re talking. I’ve read barely a line of Hawthorne, but Bierce strikes me as truly great. I think it’s odd that he’s inspired so little great cinema: he seems more readily filmed than Poe, and he’s certianly way BETTER than Lovecraft.

  30. Jack Womack Says:

    There was that beautiful short, “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” (French-made? shown as an episode of the original Twilight Zone, I recall.); and I have it in my head that a similar short was done of the really disturbing tale, “Chickamauga” (where the deaf boy finds himself playing amidst dozens of dying and dead casualties, crawling away from the battleground.) That’s really about all I can think of re: Bierce, off the top.

    So much of Bierce is internal, though, and HPL as we know too well was always, in every way, Out There (but Hollywood’s never really gotten him right, either…)

    Bierce’s “The Moonlit Road” of course, has a structure similar to Rashomon, including one narrative told via a medium…

  31. Jack Womack Says:

    And Bierce, yes, severely underappreciated, even today (Shirley Jackson, another along these lines).

    Of course anyone who could describe a hearse as “death’s baby carriage” definitely has a way with words.

  32. “soul?! soul is nothing. can you see it? touch it? smell it? no…”

  33. Jack Womack Says:

    One more time and then I promise to be quiet for a little while:

    In her famed 1971 “Raising Kane” essay (originally in The New Yorker), Pauline Kael made a curious reference that stuck with me. She mentioned a 1939 song about Orson Welles by Gene Lockhart, but she did not elaborate or supply the lyrics. In a paragraph about the attitude of the film community to Welles prior to Citizen Kane (1941), she wrote:

    Welles was hated in Hollywood long before he’d made a movie; he was hated almost upon his arrival. From time to time, Hollywood used to work up considerable puerile resentment against “outsiders” who dared to make movies. The scope of Welles’ reputation seems to have infuriated Hollywood; it was a cultural reproach from the East, and the Hollywood people tried to protect themselves by closing ranks and making Welles a butt of their humor. Gene Lockhart composed a stupid, nasty ditty called “Little Orson Annie,” which was sung at Hollywood parties; the name stuck and was used by the columnists, though Hedda Hopper supported him and suggested that Hollywood reserve judgment, and Louella Parsons, on December 31st, selected him as “the most discussed personality to come to the films in 1939.”

  34. Jack Womack Says:

    My fault, source for the last:

  35. David Boxwell Says:

    Some bits from Dumont, roughly translated:

    “With DEVIL, Dieterle could have easily have delivered his masterpiece” [but the film has the status of a cult film, a film maudit, because it was subject to cuts and a box office flop] (151).

    “RKO, which provided studio facilities and technical staff, distribution, and promotion, reserved the right of final edit, that is to say, the last word on the film’s form and shape” (151).

    “So as to stay faithful to the flavor of the original story, Dieterle asked Benet to participate in the screenplay (he had previously collaborated with Griffith in 1930 on ABRAHAM LINCOLN, with Huston in the title role” (152).

    “To incarnate the role of the satanic Mr. Scratch, Dieterle dreamed for a time of either Paul Muni or Claude Rains,” but then “decided most judiciously in favor of” Huston, who “gave the devil an image both comical [rigolarde] and disturbing [inquietante]” (152).

    Dieterle “made the film in sequence, a very unusual process for its time . . . “(152)

    Dieterle wanted Simon for the part of Belle (which was not in the original Benet story), after having seen her in LA BETE HUMAINE (as opposed to her work at Fox from 36-38). It was her second chance at success in Hollywood, since her next role would be CAT PEOPLE (157).

    (DB: Since Belle was not in Benet’s story, a possible inspiration could be the beautifully bewitching FIRE (a coloratura soprano) in Ravel’s opera L’ENFANT ET LEAS SORTILEGES).

    The film fell victim to a change in regime at RKO when business executive Charles Koerner took over from George Schaefer in the fall of 1941. Dumont: “Dieterle seems to have been the first victim . . . Welles would be the second with the mutilation of AMBERSONS)” (160). The film, on first release, lost $53K.

  36. We’ve previously discussed the lackluster trailer, but maybe the movie was just too unconventional to attract audiences. Bigger stars might have helped.

    Simone Simon had already attempted to forge a Hollywood career in the mid-thirties, and had fled back to France with her tail between her legs. Then the regime change sent her back to the States, which must have been daunting. Fortunately, she made a far greater impression second time round.

    Bierce’s Civil War stories have yielded better films than his supernatural ones, and nobody has gone near his jet-black tall tales. Tony Scott even made a fairly good short film of One of the Missing. Robert Enrico’s French version of Occurrence is excellent, and Charles Vidor’s silent version is even better.

    I find Dieterle’s Muni films a touch plodding, so I’m glad he went for Walter H instead of Muni, with whom he obviously had a good relationship.

  37. Arthur S. Says:

    Hawthorne is a truly great writer and a key influence on Herman Melville(he dedicated Moby-Dick to him), Henry James(who wrote a biography on him) and across the pond on D. H. Lawrence(cf, the canonical Studies on Classical American Literature).

    He was in the 19th Century Liberal cloth. Whatever that means(remember Maggie Thatcher called herself a 19thC. Lib.) anymore. But his books all concern a strong sense of guilt and curse. Lovecraft was deeply influenced by Hawthorne especially his House of the Seven Gables which is about a Real House and the history of the Pyncheon family(who were ancestors of…guess who?). THE SCARLET LETTER is a great book, and quite sophisticated portrait of a woman even alongside such 19th Century masterpieces like Tess, Anna Karennina and Madame Bovary. Not equal in style to those but one of the best books about the America before the revolution and also based on a true story. Hawthorne claimed to have the real life scarlet letter(A for Adulteress) with him at home. It could make a great film, it’s quite moving, not humurous but enlightening and some parts are genuinely scary. It should have been made by Carl Theodor Dreyer in Three-Strip Technicolor, that’s one story that can’t really work in Black and White.

    I’ve never read Bierce beyond the Devil’s Dictionary, inspired by the Dictionary made by Noah Webster, I’m guessing no relation to Daniel. It seems apropriate to quote…
    “Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.”

  38. I love the Devil’s Dictionary. “Cat: an indestructible soft automaton designed to be kicked when things go wrong in the domestic circle.”

    Sjostrom’s film of The Scarlet Letter is very good, scripted by Frances Marion and starring Lillian Gish, but it largely ignores the novel. Nobody seemed to mind. Then the Demi Moore version ignored the novel and there was an outcry. The difference: the Moore/Joffe version is spectacularly lousy. Both movies end with the scarlet letter being applied, which makes for a very different story…

  39. Hawthorne’s colonial gothic tales are really wonderful: both Mosses from an Old Manse and Twice-Told Tales are worth your time, especially if it’s October. Creepy and guilt-ridden and well-told.

    Actually, my only other encounter with Stephen Vincent Benet was through a short story, his adaptation of the old tale “The King of the Cats,” a great, spooky little story.

  40. Wow: Wikipedia just revealed that Benet (who died of a heart attack a couple of years after TDADW at 44) also wrote “a sequel, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent, in which real-life historic figure Webster encounters the Leviathan of biblical legend.”

    Why isn’t one of you filmmaker types making that movie right now?

  41. Somebody mentioned the sea serpent one earlier. Suggest it to Ray Harryhausen!
    There’s a rather dull movie of Twice-Told Tales, which maybe put me off the book. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has been better served by movie makers, at least sorta.
    The King of the Cats sounds fabulous though, just on title alone. I’ll be looking for some good Halloween reading…

  42. Wonderful stuff–

    not much to add for the nonce, except perhaps to mention that Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (a very skewed meditation on the author’s 6 month flirtation with the Utopian Socialist community at Brook Farm in 1841) is my favourite novel (I made my Intro to U.S. history survey class read it last fall)… If you want a window onto the tension-wracked mind of the Northern U.S. (and of New England, in particular)–Blithedale is the place to go… A case could also be made for the book as the first modernist novel–it certainly sports one of the most unreliable narrators in literary history, and it exerted a great deal of influence upon Henry James…

    as mentioned by many folks–this film tells us a lot more about America on the eve of World War Two than about the historical period and figures it purports to cover… I still think it was inspired to remake Webster (most famous for making a speech in FAVOR of the Fugitive Slave Act–which made Northerners responsible for returning escapees to the South, as a way of making up for the unrest stirred up by New Englanders like William Lloyd Garrison) this way… one imagines the creators chortling to themselves: “Liberty and (Trade) Unions… one and inseparable… now and forever”


  43. Walter Huston died just after finishing Anthony Mann’s THE FURIES, and Mann was among those who attended his funeral, along with Bogart, Evelyn Keyes (who was given a day off from filming Losey’s THE PROWLER so as to be there), not long divorced from Walter’s son John, and numerous other luminaries from the business. He was much-loved by those who knew him, and by the viewing public as well. I recently watched DRAGONWYCK, with Huston playing Gene Tierney’s father, a dour, puritanical character, God-fearing, sort of the polar opposite of his Scratch. I bought a bootleg of THE FURIES a number of years back, watched it once and set it aside, but I just purchased the Criterion DVD so I’m looking forward to revisiting it. Keyes adored Walter, was heartbroken by his death. Daniel Webster was a member of the Whig Party, which weakened and dissolved in the mid-1800s to be replaced by the Republican Party as the other rival faction of the two-party system. Lincoln himself was a Whig early in his career. I like that Scratch brings up the issues of slavery and the plight of the American Indian, it balances out the chest-thumping and bluster that goes with being a proud New England patriot (New Hampshire in particular). Alec Baldwin must be a big fan of this tale, the Criterion DVD has an audio reading of Benet’s story read by him. Bernard Hermann’s score for this film is incredible, so vigorous I get cardiac palpitations every time I hear it. And lastly, I noticed that in addition to the lad who played the young Charles Foster Kane, the boy who played Daniel Stone I recognize from A WOMAN’S FACE, the child Crawford and Veidt conspired to murder before Joan develops a change of heart. He was just too cute to kill.

  44. Hawthorne was incredibly good-looking. The Jude Law of his day. Herman Melville fell hard and literally stalked Hawthorne who was very polite about his romantically-unhinged friend.

  45. Speaking–as someone above did–of John Huston: good god, at points in Scratch’s dialogue Walter’s cadences and inflections sounded uncannily like Noah Cross. It was positively creepy.

  46. Wow!

    Good to know Huston was popular. People certainly had mixed feelings about his son.

    When I showed this film to my friend Robert (we were teenagers) he was surprised at all the New Hampshire chauvinism. “What IS it about this place?” Not that many films have celebrated that corner of the States in such a persistent way! But it’s all done with good humour.

    But maybe the first modernist novel is Scottish? James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (which Bill Douglas wanted to film) features a thoroughly unreliable narrator, and was published in 1824.

  47. Oh — anybody got any good Dieterle recommendations? I’ve seen most of the well-known ones and a few less-known, but haven’t seen his Kay Francis films, for instance. What’s good?

  48. What a delicious post, one to savor. I MUST have this DVD as clearly I haven’t seen most of the additional footage.

    Benedict Arnold was out “on other business” during Jabez’s trial. To me, the film’s interesting omission from the story’s jury is the Indian chief King Philip (Metacomet). Metacomet’s sin was to have led an uprising against the settlers, which was no doubt bloody, but he wound up dead and his head on a spike and his wife and child sold into slavery. I think that the screenwriters very deliberately omitted him to give more force to Scratch’s marvelous speech: “…When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there.” (The speech is also in the story.)

    Arthur S., I appreciated your defense of Hawthorne. I love him and it wounds me that he is so out of fashion. David E., you remind me of my college professor (very distinguished scholar) who flatly said that Melville was in love with Hawthorne–he had read the correspondence and had no doubt whatever. I gather that at some point Hawthorne, who was very much in love with his wife, froze out Melville, much to that writer’s pain. And yes, Hawthorne was gorgeous, even the old pictures of him show a very handsome guy.

    God, so much to say about this film. I love its dream-like lighting and beautiful sound quality. I love its deep and authentic patriotism, rooted in the notion of redemption. I always felt that it wasn’t just Jabez on trial, it is America itself, via the jury that demonstrates (even without Metacomet) a whole litany of its sins. And of course our better nature wins out in the end. Some might find that pure fantasy but I call it American optimism.

    Finally, it is wrong and unfair to characterize Webster himself or the speech of 1850 alluded to in the book and film as flatly pro-slavery. His primary objective was to preserve the Union, and to that end he was willing to compromise with the South. He gets roundly condemned for that these days–the compromise he was speaking for including the heinous Fugitive Slave Act–but he was personally opposed to slavery.

  49. La Faustin Says:

    Kay Francis? You’re trolling for the Siren, aren’t you?

  50. If I am, I think I was too late! Have sen very few Francis films, but love her in Living on Velvet and Trouble in Paradise. There are at least three Dieterles she’s in, I think.

    Fantastic stuff from the Siren, anyway. The idea of America on trial resonates, and also connects with the idea expressed earlier that Jabez is a pawn in a game aimed at toppling Webster. It relates right back to Murnau’s Faust, where the whole world hangs in the balance.

    I’m glad Metacomet was excused jury duty. One can hardly accuse him of betraying the American dream, whatever his crimes.

  51. Thanks also for the defense/clarification of Webster’s involvement in the Fugitive Slave Act. I think it’s a compromise too far, but one can understand his desire to avert secession and/or civil war.

  52. Siren you were very lucky to have a professor that good. Most would touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

  53. My less-famous Dieterle reccomendations include Sex in Chains, Rope of Sand, Paid in Full and of course Volcano (which I’ve chatted about in here awhile back.

  54. David Boxwell Says:

    Most of the Francis-Dieterle collaborations show up on Turner Classic Movies in the US.

    “Jewel Robbery” (32): the best, almost as good as “Trouble in Paradise”, and just as amoral and “wicked.” A scene of group marijuana-puffing, all rather genteel, is an improbable but delightful plot point.

    “Man Wanted” (32): As in “Female,” Dieterle enjoys having the woman on top. Francis is a snippy exec who tries out a succession of male “secwetawies” and finds them wanting, but lovely David Manners fills the bill after much sadistic testing by his boss, who is much more butch than any of the men she employs.

    “Gesclecht in Fesseln” (28): key film in Weimar sexual politics; the homosex in prison is trembling hand-touching, not a raw exercise in power relations. Special pleading is the purpose of all those flicks (i.e. Pabst’s “Secrets of a Soul”) renders it much less enjoyable than the pre-Code delights at Warners.

    Speaking of Melville, I wonder what Dieterle’s performance as Ahab in the 1930 “Damon des Meers” is like.

    And, as we’ve mentioned here, before “The Last Flight” is one of the greatest films of the 1930s.

  55. David Boxwell Says:

    Netflix subscribers can watch Dieterle’s THE ACCUSED (49) on demand (not available on DVD). Miss Loretta Young gets assaulted, in an unspeakable manner, by short but well-muscled Douglas Dick. The noir stylings are there, as expected/desired.

  56. I’ve seen Sex in Chains, which is sombre and effective. Just thrilled to Dark City, about which more later, and am in the mood to check out more of the noirs, so Rope of Sand and Paid in Full may get examined. And Jewel Robbery sounds unmissable.

    Elephant Walk is a camp joy. “Why’d they have to build their house in the path of the elephants?” asked Fiona, repeatedly, and that really is the central imponderable.

    Six Hours to Live is sluggish but bizarre, with a Frankensteinian elctro-galvanism plot wrinkle. The Devil’s in Love is uneven but very beautiful to look at.

    I’d love to see his Wagner movie!

  57. Great post! I’ve only seen a few Dieterle films so far:

    The Devil and Daniel Webster — my favorite so far

    Portrait of Jennie with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten — a lovely film; does this one count as “well-known”? Everyone should see it, anyway!

    Jewel Robbery with Kay Francis and William Powell — this is the only Dieterle/Francis movie I’ve seen so far, and it’s a lot of fun. I love the scene where Powell tries to get Francis into the jewelry store vault so he can make his escape with the jewels:

    KF: With pleasure … if you’ll come with me.
    WP: What?
    KF: What do you expect me to do in there alone?
    WP: Madame, this is business!
    KF: I refuse the safe.
    WP: Well then, come with me! I’ll drop you somewhere in the suburbs — untouched.
    KF: Untouched and in the suburbs? Oh, no! No, that doesn’t intrigue me at all…

    Fashions of 1934 with William Powell and Bette Davis — I will watch these two in almost anything. This one wasn’t bad, but didn’t make much of an impression on me. I do remember a weird Busby Berkeley number, with lots of ostrich feathers or something like that.

    I recorded the last two off TCM, along with a few others that I haven’t watched yet: The Devil’s in Love, Fog Over Frisco, and Boots Malone. FOF sounded like the most promising of these. And I also want to watch Satan Met a Lady which is included as a special feature with my copy of The Maltese Falcon.

    Now, off to Netflix to put some other Dieterle films on my queue!

  58. Fashions of 1934 does have some lovely early Technicolor.

    I guess the ones that count as well known are Portrait of Jennie, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Devil and Daniel Webster, just barely. But because of these three, Dieterle is regarded as a known quantity, when he’s not.

    Fog Over Frisco has a reputation for amazing speed.

    Jewel Robbery is speeding towards my grasp as I type this.

  59. David C., has anyone ever filmed Confessions of a Justified Sinner? I think it would make a hell of a movie and could probably stand up to a modern-dress version as well. To clarify myself — there is a LOT of room to debate Webster’s actions and he was roundly condemned for the compromise at the time, so it isn’t hindsight to find him lacking, either. I just didn’t think some of the references were entire fair. There can be no doubt that the story and film’s Webster is idealized, almost ludicrously so, but he’s meant as a New England folk hero, a Casey Jones, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan or John Henry, more than an actual person.

    La Faustin – ha! the Siren does her own Francis trolling. :D So let me recommend Jewel Robbery, if our host hasn’t seen it. It’s delicious.

    David E., the professor was Kenneth Silverman. I loved him to bits. His lecture manner was quiet, almost diffident, but if you paid attention he was a revelation. So I sat down front in the class and listened closely. His description of the Hawthorne/Melville relationship was rather melancholy and quite sympathetic to both men. He said Melville’s letters have a crush aspect to them that he could see making someone uncomfortable. But he also described Hawthorne as a rather aloof sort of person who didn’t do a very good job of letting Melville down easy — he just tapered off contact.

  60. No one’s yet mentioned A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) among the Dieterle’s that must be seen. Sure, it was co-directed by Max Reinhardt who was almost certainly the dominant auteur, but it’s a *fantastic* film in every sense of the word, and looks forward to Dieterle’s work on Portrait of Jennie and All That Money Can Buy. There’s also Salome which is nowhere near as good as the previously mentioned films, but it does have Rita Hayworth and Charles Laughton — in Technicolor. Laughton always seemed to do better with European-born directors than with their American brethren.

  61. And there’s also Kismet (1944) which is simply wonderful. The Technicolor art direction is by the same folks who did The Wizard of Oz, and it looks it. The film stars Ronald Coleman, Edward Arnold (!), and Marlene Dietrich, who in one surprisingly erotic sequence is painted gold head to toe. I like it far more than the Minnelli version.

  62. David Boxwell Says:

    FOG OVER FRISCO (34) goes absolutely nutso with the editing/transition device called the “wipe” in every possible design permutation, which speeds it along (and Davis is killed half-way through, anticipating Leigh’s role in the structure of PSYCHO).

    The wipe pretty much got killed off by its overuse in Dieterle’s flick, I think.

  63. C. Jerry, I have a lot of affection for Salome which was simultaneously overheated and half-baked, but quite an eyeful all the same. And I think Midsummer Night’s Dream is lovely–never seen a Puck to touch Mickey Rooney’s, and I like Cagney as Bottom also. I guess people generally think of that one as more Max Reinhardt, although I gather Dieterle did much of the actual shooting.

    I haven’t seen the Dieterle Kismet.

  64. Tony Williams Says:

    Fascinating posts! I saw THE ACCUSED (1949) on Black Rock’s local PBS station once when Erv Coppi was struggling with lack of money and showed some old neglected b/ws. This was in the mid-80s. From my memory of this one viewing, the film combined an interesting clash between style and contemporary ideology.

    This has been a great beginning, David C, and all these posts are fascinating to read.

  65. re: Dieterle

    I’ve been obsessed with Rope of Sand for two decades…

    The Turning Point is a fascinating little noir

    and Another Dawn (with Kay) is a somethin’ else, once you isolate the romance from the jingoism

    re: Webster

    the Siren is correct in that Webster, personally, did not condone slavery–however, within the context of the late-1840s/early-1850s, supporting the Fugitive Slave Act was, basically, a Pro-slavery statement… even many VIRULENT racists in the North opposed this act, because it, in effect, made all American citizens slaveholders by proxy…

    it was an extraordinarily unconscionable act–although, I suppose you could say that Webster was brave in bucking the overwhelming tide of public opinion in New England (which was well in the vanguard of antislavery opinion)… he was basically in favor of doing anything to appease discontent in the South… the Union was, indeed, the only thing he held sacred…. (certainly, the film’s Webster thinks the Union ought to stand for more than itself)

    re: Webster’s politics in general though–it should be mentioned that he was never associated with worker/farmer interests… at the beginning of his career, he advocated policies favorable to seaboard merchants (who ran New England in the early 19th century) and then he switched onto the side of manufacturing powers after the rise of the mill towns in Massachusetts (which ran on Southern cotton)

  66. Christopher Says:

    did anyone catch the biblical parallel of Jabez of the Bible and the character in the story?Jabez being a hebrew word for pain,he was given that name because of the pain to his mother during childbirth…a Child born out of wedlock which caused his mother much guilt..Anyway..God favored him and prospered him..In later years the Jabez Prayer developed which is a prayer for prosperity..Because of its cult like status,many devout Christians see the prayer as a prayer of greed..and to an extent, a link to satan and the church..

  67. This is all fascinating! The movie references Job (in the full-length cut), but ignores the biblical Jabez.

    Jewel Robbery and Rope of Sand are now mine…

    Criminal of me to forget Midsummer Night’s Dream, maybe the second Dieterle I ever saw, and one of the famous ones. Dieterle had far more movie experience than mentor Max, so I expect his contribution was considerable. And he worked with several of those actors again.

    Confessions of a Justified Sinner remains unfilmed, except by Wojciech Has in Poland, amid rumours of a curse. Bill Douglas died before he could shoot it, and I was present when Lindsay Anderson was offered the project (“Because it requires a poet”) and he was dead within a year also. Has survived his movie and even made another.

    Well, I call this a success! keep them coming, and remember we have Le Mepris next week.

  68. One of my favourite scenes is when Stevens holds up the two gold coins in front of his eyes. I like the way this shows the power of obsession and moral blindness that ensues. He almsot becomes hypnotised by the coins. It’s one of the main themes of the film, the way obsession and narrow self-focus are powerfully addictive and distort everything that is simple and natural in life.

  69. It’s a double-meaning shot, since it also stands for Stevens’ realization that Scratch has claimed another victim: Jabez has the same “Hessian gold” that he has.
    Those troublesome Hessians turn up in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, where my costume designer friend Ali helped them get their kit on.

  70. Jack Womack Says:

    The editing at the climax of the barndance, too; by the end, before shifting the focus back to WH fiddling away, that succession of ever-quicker cuts than I can recall seeing in anything prior to the 60s, at least.

    Haven’t turned up a direct link (surely just missing it, somewhere) to “The Devil and Homer Simpson” episode but recall that Nixon is one member of the jury, complaining bitterly about the company he’s being forced to keep.

  71. 71 posts and counting…. I’ve just spent a very pleasurable hour catching up with everybody’s take on this film, which I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Very glad to have the chance to catch up with it!

    It’s all been said, pretty much, so here’s my only two (rather rock’n’roll) thoughts:

    Mick Jagger has supposedly said that Sympathy for the Devil was inspired by The Master and Margarita, but “I was there when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and shame…” – what does that remind you of?

    The shot of Old Scratch banging the bass drum in the ragged-ass band of veterans, cigar proudly akimbo, made me think that maybe Tom Waits saw this movie, like the rest of us, as a kid, and built his entire schtick around it. He’s certainly the closest incarnation we have presently with us of the Walter Huston School of Teeth-Acting.

  72. oh I just noticed that no one has mentioned Love Letters (or did they?)

    if you haven’t seen that one, I can’t recommend it enough. I think it’s the most intensely lurid amnesiac melodrama of all time (this adds up to pantheon level admiration, in my book)

    also works beautifully on a double-blll with Portrait of Jennie

    and then there’s Juarez, which should have destroyed the biopic singlehandedly… it does what the best Verhoeven films do to their respective genres (again, this is high praise from me)

    the lack of attention paid to Dieterle’s oeuvre continues to puzzle me–and a thread like this does my soul a great deal of good


  73. I would count Love Letter — with its Alice Rosenbaum screeenplay –as major Dieterle. Portrait of Jennie is Beyond Fabulous, with Dieterle the ideal craftsman to immortalize Jennifer Jones to David O’s specifications. It was one of Luis Bunuel’s favorites.

    And A Midsummer Night’s Dream is truly magnificent. Again Dieterle is a marvelous collaborator, being quite familiar with Max Reinhart’s legenedary stage work and lighting effects. The cast is teriffic, especially Mickey Rooney, Olivia DeHaviland, Dick Powell, James Cagney, Victor Jory, Veree Teasdale and Kenneth Anger.

  74. The Simpsons version of The Jury of the Damned can be seen at

    but, sadly, only by viewers in America.

  75. I’m snatching up all the Dieterles I can find now, so hopefully you’ll get more posts on him in the coming week. He’s somebody who deserves his own book in English.

    Love Letters is the next one I shall bag.

    I urge Americans to check out The Simpsons take on TDADW!

  76. Harry Alan Towers, RIP.

  77. Now that IS the end of an era.

  78. L. Tannahill Says:

    I just had to add this bit of trivia – I had heard of this film but not seen it until I watched it last night. I had recorded it on my DVR and thoroughly enjoyed it. I noted while watching that the date the contract was made between Scratch and Stone was April 7th – my birthday. I found it interesting when I looked up Walter Huston that he died on April 7th, 1950, and was born April 6th, 1884.
    Funny coincidence, no?

  79. Wow! The Huston thing is pretty wild. Turns out April 7th is also the birthday of one of my regulars here.

    Hope you’ll join us for future Film Clubs, it’s obviously in the stars.

  80. L. Tannahill Says:

    Thanks – I haven’t explored anything here further than the D&DW page but looks interesting with some intelligent commentary.
    Perhaps another film for discussion might be one of my old favorites, Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et La Bete” – I assume you’ve seen it? I first saw it broadcast on WOR Channel 9 out of New York in the ’70s, when I was a pre-goth teen and would spend many pleasant sunny summer days holed up in a dark room with the blinds drawn watching old movies. I don’t have time for such things in my busy life now, but do still appreciate a good old film when one crosses my path.

  81. The Cocteau would be delightful to look at sometime. A friend showed it to his three tiny kids when they were too young to read subtitles, and they dug it: “It’s the same story as the other one!” they squealed in delight, being fans of the Disney. A lesson for parents: little kids will watch ANYTHING, so you might as well expose them to the classics.

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