All that Money Can Buy

All that Money Can Buy (The Devil and Daniel Webster) Blu-ray cover

The myriad factors which control the weather so complex that it can appear so far beyond unpredictable as to be considered chaotic, there are theories that suggest that the belief systems which formed early religions first sprang from the need to impose order upon nature so that it might be more readily comprehended through that lens, so kind one day and then destructive the next, destroying the crops in one field while sparing the next, a judgement of the gods which could otherwise not be explained, a primitive but powerful conceit which informs All that Money Can Buy.

Directed by William Dieterle and originally released in 1941, it is based upon Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1936 short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, also adapted as a play and an opera and with that title attached to some later prints of the film, the tale of the humble farmer Jabez Stone (James Craig) who is brought low by a series of events which leave him indebted and desperate, ripe for temptation by Mister Scratch (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’s Oscar winner Walter Huston).

All that Money Can Buy (The Devil and Daniel Webster); Mister Scratch (Walter Huston) introduces himself and makes an offer.

The very devil himself, just passing through Cross Corners, New Hampshire, Scratch offers Jabez seven years of good fortune in return for his soul, the debt to be repaid on 7th April 1847, and indeed Jabez becomes wealthy and prosperous but the gold also makes him arrogant, his generosity boastful, drinking and gambling on a Sunday and his young son Daniel growing up to be wilful even as his once devoted and kind-hearted wife Mary (Anne Shirley) is pushed from his thoughts by newly arrived and overly familiar maid Belle (Cat People’s bewitching Simone Simon).

Jabez’s only saving grace his friendship with the lawyer Daniel Webster (Twelve Angry Men’s Edward Arnold) whom he eventually realises may be his only hope for breaking the contract, the case is heard by a jury of the damned and the notorious Judge Hawthorne who presided over the Salem Witch Trials, All that Money Can Buy standing almost as a companion piece to It’s a Wonderful Life with Huston giving a suitably devilish performance as Scratch, creating circumstance to prompt the deal and the default in a film which shifts from the (Hollywood) realism of poverty to the surreal setting of the ball in the big house and the impromptu hearing in the barn.

All that Money Can Buy (The Devil and Daniel Webster); playing with fire, Belle Dee (Simone Simon) and Jabez Stone (James Craig).

A shadow in the background from the outset as he whispers in Webster’s ear, telling him he could become President, the apparently genial Scratch deals the cards from a stacked deck, manipulating events and people as he makes a bad deal seem like a good idea; neither his wife nor his mother (Jane Darwell) impressed by his gold or the story of how he came by it, Jabez comes to ignore them, and so it is Webster who must serve as the calm voice of compassion, making eloquent speeches of humanity and kindness to an audience as hostile as any in Congress.

Shot by Joseph August, co-founder of the American Society of Cinematographers, edited by Audrey Rose’s Robert Wise and with an Oscar winning score by Bernard Herrmann, All that Money Can Buy remains as sharp as ever as it joins the Criterion Collection in a new 4K digital restoration, supported by a commentary from film historian Bruce Eder and Herrmman biographer Steven C Smith, a reading of the original story by Alec Baldwin, a comparison of the different release versions and radio adaptations of both this and another story by Benét, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent.

All that Money Can Buy will be available on Blu-ray from Criterion from Monday 8th April

All that Money Can Buy (The Devil and Daniel Webster); Daniel Webster and Mister Scratch (Edward Arnold and Walter Huston) consider the contract for the soul of Jabez Stone (James Craig).



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