“I’ve had more than my share! Nothing ever goes right for me!”
A poverty-stricken New England farmer named Jabez Stone (James Craig) sells his soul to the devil (Walter Huston) in exchange for seven years of prosperity, and soon finds his luck changing entirely — but his loyal wife (Anne Shirley) and no-nonsense mother (Jane Darwell) notice profound changes in his personality, and are especially distressed when he appears to be having an affair with a seductive nanny (Simone Simon) sent by Mr. Scratch (Huston) to keep an eye on him.
William Dieterle directed this highly cinematic adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story — originally titled All That Money Can Buy to avoid confusion with The Devil and Miss Jones (1941). Huston plays “Mr. Scratch” with gleeful abandon, never not enjoying his earthly travails with humans who are so eager to trade their souls; and the rest of the cast is superb as well (as a side note, Shirley looks particularly like Olivia de Havilland). Bernard Herrmann’s film score — made the same year he scored Citizen Kane (1941) — creatively uses period folk tunes to set the mood and the era, and justifiably won an Oscar. While the entire storyline is well-handled (the DVD commentary track is worth a listen), perhaps the most famous sequence is the final barnhouse trial with infamous criminals coming in ghostly form to listen to Stone’s case. Film fanatics won’t be disappointed by a revisit of this enduring and enjoyable classic.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- William Dieterle’s direction
- Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch
- Fine supporting performances across the board
- John August’s cinematography
- Many memorable scenes
- Bernard Herrmann’s Oscar-winning score
Yes, as an impressive and still powerful classic.