Media, Religion

The Devil and Daniel Webster, 1941

This is 1941, when Hollywood apparently still approved of God.

“The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a short story written by Stephen Vincent Benet in 1936 for Saturday Evening Post, then in book form in 1937, then this film version in 1941. It’s available for free viewing on YouTube, only certain biases apply, as I could only find it from a Russian link. (1 hr, 47 minutes.)


I August I wrote “The More Things Change”, which gave a good indication of how Hollywood viewed the print media, especially big city newspapers, and the incorrigible lie-mongering engaged in by reporters, at the urgings of their editors and owners. James O’Keefe’s hidden video expose of behind-the-scenes plotting at CNN provides all the continuity we need. Salacious media lies haven’t really changed…except that Hollywood isn’t really there to expose it anymore.

That same era,1935 to Pearl Harbor, was a painful era in America as it tried to drag itself out of the Great Depression. (Some argue that had it not been for World War II we’d still be there, for a weak, needy, hands-out America was how the Democrats wanted us to always be.)

That era also saw the rise of Hollywood simply based on the rapidly evolving film and sound technology and the relatively cheap entertainment it provided to citizens. The “picture show”.

As the films about corrupt newspaper people I mentioned above, this “Devil and Daniel Webster” goes even further to explore the Hollywood of that period also highlighting religion, Christianity, as a very good thing indeed.

Now, even if you’re sitting down, brace yourself, for not only is this film about Christian farm folk, with prayer at every meal, an open Bible at the ready in its own corner of the little front room, and even stern rebukes for using words like “Consarn”, but it is….steady yourself… about New England Christian farm folk!

The story is based on the Faust legend of the fellow who makes a deal to sells his soul to the Devil and then tries to get out of it once Old Clootie comes to collect.

In this version, a nice hard working couple, and the fellow’s mother have a farm in New Hampshire very near to where it joins Massachusetts and Vermont. All the farmers in the area are living on the edge, in hock to the local banker (who it’s later revealed had also sold his soul to the Devil.)The young farmer, by name of Jabez, a typical “I can do it myself…” Yankee, facing one farm mishap after another, and behind on his mortgage loan, suddenly meets the Devil (played by Walter Huston), who calls himself “Scratch” (haven’t heard that name in over 50 years) and who reveals to Jabez a cache of Hessian gold from the Revolution buried underneath the flooring of his barn.

Of course the deal has to be sealed with a written contract, 7 years renewable, at which time they’ll renegotiate new terms.

Well Jabez goes from an upright starry-eyed, soon-to-be father, from exhibiting all the virtues we used to associate with “Yankee”, to all the vices we associate with spoiled rotten rich kids from that same part of the country today, losing all his friends except his devoted wife and hard-nosed mother.

Enter Daniel Webster, US Senator from next door Massachusetts, likely presidential candidate and friend of Jabez’s wife’s family. He had been a target of Scratch for years. Webster is played by Edward Arnold, who’ll you’ll recognize if you watch many old movies from the 30s.

The drama of Jabez’s downfall builds up to Daniel Webster coming to talk Jabez down off his high horse, then learns Scratch is coming that night to collect on the 7-year contract…either Jabez’ 7 year-old son for an extension, or Jabez’ soul for final payment.

Webster volunteers to confront Jabez, as his attorney.

He asks for a court and a jury, so Scratch stacked it, bringing forth 12 of American history’s most infamous criminals; killers, cutthroats, and traitors, including Benedict Arnold, plus a notorious hanging judge, who promptly rejects every one of Webster’s objections.

Scratch entered the contract as evidence, then the judge would not allow Webster to cross-examine the Devil as to any sleight-of-hand or fraud he might have used to get Jabez to sign in the first pace. (Sound familiar?)

But the judge gives Webster the final choice to concede, turning Jabez’s soul over the Devil, or allowing him to make a final argument to the jury…but only at the risk of losing his own soul as well.

But, to see Webster’s final argument you have to go some.

This summarized final few minutes were inserted in a Simpson’s skit,

but it works.

I have a suspicion this is exactly the sort of stuff YouTube doesn’t want you to see. So pass it on.

Just note the language used, which is exactly what this fight is about now.

This is worth your time.

Then compose a 300-word summary and send to you favorite candidate next year. And be very secure that every Democrat candidate, from county clerk to President, will not dare use a single sentiment found herein their argument to voters.




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