Academy Awards 1941 -
Best Original Score: Bernard Herrmann
USA Today - 02/13/1992
"...It still has Joseph August's shadowy photography, Bernard Herrmann's Oscar-winning score and Stephen Vincent Benet's yarn....A masterwork..."
William Dieterle adapts Stephen Vincent Benet's transformation of the Faust legend from the tale of an aging genius to that of struggling New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone, played by James Craig. When Stone absently exclaims that he would sell his soul for a little money and a decent crop, up pops the Mephistophelean Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston). Thinking the whole thing a joke, Stone takes Scratch up on his offer of seven years of prosperity in return for his soul. As Stone's fortunes change and his coffers swell, so does his character. He mutates into a hard, avaricious tyrant, nearly enslaving as tenant famers the neigbors who had been his friends. Ignoring his kind and patient wife, Mary (Anne Shirley), he takes a mistress, Belle (Simone Simon), builds her a mansion, and even allows her to raise his son. When Scratch comes to collect his debt, the terrified Stone realizes his error and begs legendary New Hampshire lawyer and politician Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) for help. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER is a nearly perfect film, very well acted and directed, with an exceptional performance by Huston. Even better are the Oscar-winning score by Bernard Herrmann and the gorgeous black-and-white photography of Joseph August.
Transplanting the Faust legend to the soil of New Hampshire, the film stars James Craig as Jabez Stone, a struggling farmer who one day, out of frustration, inadvertently summons the devil, incarnated as the mischievous Mr. Scratch. The Prince of Darkness offers him seven years of prosperity in exchange for his soul, and, considering the deal a joke, the farmer accepts. The seven years of good fortune turn the farmer into a cold, grasping tyrant who turns his back on all he had loved. When payment comes due, terrified, he realized his error and calls upon the legendary lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster to defend him in court against Mr. Scratch.