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The Devil And Daniel Webster (William Dieterle)

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I don't know much about William Dieterle but he must have worked with Orson Welles at RKO. I can see some Wellsian influence in certain camera angles and reflected in the stark beautiful lighting, but I have not been able to confirm my suspicion. This could be Robert Wise's influence who editied the film, someone whose cinematic eye always shared the same optic nerve as the great director. Anyway, I'm interested in seeing other Dieterle films now and highly recommend this one. Bernard Herrmann utilizes a few pieces from this great score into one of my favorite pieces from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD!

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (William Dieterle, 1941, USA) Jabez Stone has an itch that needs Scratched, and in a profane moment of weakness consigns himself to seven years good fortune…and an eternity of bad luck. A modern interpretation of Goethe’s Faust, Director William Dieterle has elevated a derivative and clichéd premise into a beautifully crafted film: shot in glorious black and white, the inspired cinematography is ingrained with Wellsian genius, utilizing great low-angle shots and chiaroscuro lighting to great effect. When Jabez signs the contract, his face is hidden in deep shadow while Scratch’s visage lightens and becomes gleefully angelic. Contemplate the mansion scene, where demonic face leer through patterned curtains, and their danse macabre is filmed in soft nightmarish focus. Or the gloating shadow that hovers over Daniel Webster, whispering trickery and cruel thoughts, promising him pure power and his heart’s desire. The Bernard Herrmann score pumps the narrative full of suspense and humor, and then echoes the soft heresy of the damned. Robert Wise’s editing is paced beautifully; the jury scene creates an edge-of-your-seat drama with medium shot to four quick edits where we end peering into the eyes of the doomed Judge, his final decision about to be revealed. Walter Huston as Scratch is a sight to behold, his Cheshire grin beguiling and seductive, but lurking beneath is a man of wealth and taste…whose could lay your soul to waste. Jabez’s innocence is slowly eroded from within by his lust for money, his good intentions leading him towards a spiritual conflagration. And only one man save Jabez: the great orator Daniel Webster. He must deliver a closing argument so convincing that a jury of the damned must be sympathetic, evil men whose cruelty is legendary, corrupt souls devoid of the last vestiges of humanity. The final speech is oversaturated with patriotic fervor and he taps into their regrets, asking them free Jabez from the hellish contract. Finally, Scratch believes he has the last word, a scrumptious peach pie, but the joke is on him. (B+)

message 2: by Phillip (last edited Jan 27, 2009 07:58PM) (new)

Phillip | 10274 comments i've held this in my hand a few times, but never rented it. hmmm, i'm still intrigued but on the fence. you're a hard grader, so a b+ is a good rec from you...

message 3: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Jan 28, 2009 06:26PM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I think you'll enjoy the dark theme...and it is dark...nice camera angles...Walter Huston is fantastic...and of course Bernard Herrmann! Go for it!

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