Two fascinating stalwarts, Arnold and Huston, have a go at each other in this witty fantasy based on the O. Henry Prize-winning Stephen Vincent Benet short story. The author reportedly had a hand in the film version with Dan Totheroh. Jabez Stone (Craig) is a New England farmer having a
difficult time making a living. When he casually swears that he would sell his soul for enough money to make life easier, up pops Huston as Mr. Scratch. This charming devil purchases Stone's soul in return for seven years of good luck. At first Stone thinks it's all an elaborate joke but then the
money starts rolling in. Sudden success transforms the simple, good-hearted Stone into a venal, cold-blooded businessman who now cheats his neighbors, ignores his wife (Shirley) and their new-born child, refuses to listen to his mother (Darwell), and even gives up going to church on Sundays,
opting to play poker instead. His phenomenal luck makes the entire farming community suspicious. The situation worsens on the homefront when Mr. Scratch's temptingly beautiful emissary (Simon), an odd servant girl, comes to live with Stone's family. Stone builds a grand mansion and gives an
elegant ball, inviting everyone, including the famous Daniel Webster (Arnold). But everything goes wrong. Strange, crude people arrive and eat savagely at the banquet tables, and an equally strange band plays eerie music. All the guests, it seems, are people who have struck bargains with the
Devil. The scene terrifies Stone and he flees, following his family whom he has run out of the mansion. He catches up with them on the road and his wife promises help. She goes to Webster, begging him to plead her husband's case. The great lawyer agrees to save his fellow New Englander if he can.
Arnold, though appearing only intermittently, is at his stentorian best and Huston steals the film as a roguish Devil full of snap, crackle and pop. Huston was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and the film won a richly deserved Oscar for Bernard Herrmann's lively and eerie score.
Director Dieterle does one of his finest ever jobs of directing with the telling of this picturesque tale, and August's camerawork is masterful.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Two fascinating stalwarts, Arnold and Huston, have a go at each other in this witty fantasy based on the O. Henry Prize-winning Stephen Vincent Benet short story. The author reportedly had a hand in the film version with Dan Totheroh. Jabez Stone (Craig) i… (more)