All That Money Can Buy (1941) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Mar 18, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
All That Money Can Buy (1941) (Blu-ray Review)


William Dieterle

Release Date(s)

1941 (March 12, 2024)


RKO Radio Pictures (The Criterion Collection – Spine #214)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A+

All That Money Can Buy (1941) (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Tales about making deals with the devil date back centuries, in folklore, literature, theater and, later, film. Most are variations on the German legendary character Faust. The films Rosemary’s Baby, The Devil’s Advocate, and Bedazzled, among others, are variations on the theme. In a lesser-known film, All That Money Can Buy (aka The Devil and Daniel Webster), set in rural 19th century New England, the devil assumes the guise of a grandfatherly old man.

Jabez Stone (James Craig, Seven Sinners) is a poor, down-on-his-luck farmer struggling to support his wife and his mother. When a string of setbacks prompts him to angrily declare that he’d sell his soul to the devil if his lot would improve, a stranger appears. Introducing himself as Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), he offers Jabez seven years of prosperity in exchange for his soul. Jabez agrees after Scratch “discovers” a pile of gold in the farmer’s barn.

Jabez’s attitude and behavior toward his friends and loved ones, including his wife, Mary (Anne Shirley, Murder My Sweet) and his mother (Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath) change for the worse as his riches pile up, and his reputation in the community deteriorates. But now the seven years are coming to a close and Mr. Scratch lurks nearby, waiting to claim his part of the bargain. In desperation, Jabez seeks the help of a friend, the lawyer and congressman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold, You Can’t Take It With You), whose eloquence and intelligence just might be able to save the repentant farmer’s soul.

Working with Stephen Vincent Benet and Dan Totheroh’s screenplay adapted from Benet’s story The Devil and Daniel Webster, director William Dieterle combines folksy humor, the supernatural, and period charm in a tale that creates suspense in the uncertainty of its outcome. Are Jabez and Webster clever enough to outsmart Satan himself or are they doomed from the outset?

Cleverly scripted, the film benefits from a fine cast headed by Huston as the shrewdly ingratiating Mr. Scratch, not a fearsome apparition but a harmless-looking man like any other in the community. He approaches his victim with soft-spoken inducements and the wisdom of an old-timer. Huston uses just the right tones of voice and mannerisms to bring such a wicked character to life. Gray and grizzled, dressed like any farmer in overalls and a battered hat, but chomping on a cigar and smiling with a sly glint, Huston’s Mr. Scratch is very much “the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Craig does a nice job as both the modest, well-meaning Jabez and the exploitative lout he eventually becomes, spoiled by wealth and power. Before his encounter with Mr. Scratch, Jabez is devoted to his beloved wife, who stands by him through hard times, and his mother, who sees to his spiritual welfare and helps with household chores. His neighbors respect him and seek his advice about joining an organization to fend off loan sharks. We believe Craig’s portrayal of Jabez as kind and thoughtful and an upstanding citizen. Later, as wealth and temptation cause a dark side of Jabez to surface, we believe his transformation into a ruthless neighbor, unfaithful husband, and dissolute wastrel. Craig does a fine job with a character arc that ranges from kind-hearted farmer to greedy scoundrel to terrified sinner desperate for redemption.

Mr. Scratch uses all kinds of tricks to make sure his contract is fulfilled. One of them is Belle (Simone Simon, Cat People), a beautiful temptress Scratch places as housekeeper in the Jabez home to drive a wedge between Jabez and Mary. I was reminded of Lola in the musical comedy Damned Yankees, another alluring beauty sent by the devil to make sure he will collect on his bargain. Simon projects false solicitousness, flirtatiousness, and malice as Belle works her female charms on Jabez and alienates him from family and all that is good.

Arnold has his big scene toward the end of the film in an impressive monologue in which Daniel Webster defends Jabez before a judge and jury of the damned composed of the ghosts of the worst villains in American history. With his rich, deep voice, Arnold infuses Webster with New England common sense as well as rhetorical skill and determination to fight for Jabez’s soul even if his own soul may be forfeit. Arnold shows through the sweat on his brow and his deadly serious expression that the stakes are high.

All That Money Can Buy has an interesting genesis. It’s based on the 1938 play adaptation by Stephen Vincent Benet of his 1936 short story The Devil and Daniel Webster. He based the play on the libretto he created by for an opera adaptation of the short story. Benet and Dan Totheroh adapted the play into the film’s screenplay. The studio changed the title partly to avoid confusion with another RKO film released the same year, The Devil and Miss Jones. The original title was subsequently restored. The film was also released under the titles Mr. Scratch, Daniel and the Devil and Here Is a Man.

Director of photography Joseph H. August shot All That Money Can Buy on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and it was presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Criterion’s digital master was sourced from the 35 mm nitrate original camera negative and a German 35 mm nitrate duplicate picture negative and scanned in 4K resolution. The 4K restoration, according to information in the enclosed booklet, was undertaken by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation in collaboration with Janus Films, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Library of Congress.

This is a beautiful-looking film, with no visual imperfections. Clarity and contrast are excellent. When we first see Belle, she’s in front of a fireplace, which gives off an eerie aura making her appear beyond human. Rear projection is used when Jabez is driving his wagon and we see the countryside passing behind him. Mr. Scratch’s court, with its jury of knaves, murderers and traitors, is an assemblage of gloomy specters, silent and solemn. At a party that Jabez gives, only Mr. Scratch’s ghostly guests attend, swirling in a creepy dance of death. Production design is rich, with the studio’s evocation of a 19th century small town looking both quaint and welcoming.

The soundtrack is English 1.0 LPCM. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from a 35 mm track print of the 1943 re-release version of the film (known as The Devil and Daniel Webster) and a German 35 mm nitrate track negative of the 1941 preview version (Here Is a Man). Dialogue is clear and distinct. Bernard Herrmann, known for his dark, brooding music, mixes folk melodies and electronic sounds into his score for All That Money Can Buy, giving the picture a down-home quality tinged with menace. Sound effects include a squealing pig, barking dog, gun shots, cheering crowd, crackling fire, and a buggy jouncing along a muddy road.

The Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection contains several bonus extras that were previously included on their 2003 DVD release. The complete list of bonus materials is as follows:

  • Audio Commentary by Bruce Eder and Steven C. Smith
  • Restoration Demonstration (6:15)
  • Reading of The Devil and Daniel Webster by Alec Baldwin (33:43)
  • Episode of Observations on Film (13:05)
  • Version Comparisons (4:38)
  • Radio Adaptation of The Devil and Daniel Webster (29:51)
  • Radio Adaptation of Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent (29:47)
  • Trailer (:49)

Audio Commentary – Film Historian Bruce Eder and Steven C. Smith, Biographer of Composer Bernard Herrmann, note that The Criterion Collection edition is the complete version of the film, the first presentation of the 106-minute version in 50 years since it was cut for reissue in 1952. The film was shot at RKO when the studio was enjoying its creative heyday. The original title was A Certain Mr. Scratch because parts of the country didn’t want the word “devil” on marquees. The name Daniel Webster also suggested a period piece, and “period pieces were trouble.” After many alternate titles were suggested, All That Money Can Buy became the title of the original release. The film was shot almost sequentially, very unusual for a Hollywood picture. William Dieterle worked for years at Warners, but went to RKO, where he set up his own production company. He had great success with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Benet story is an American version of the Faust legend, with Faust recast as a New England farmer. Benet celebrates the gradual procession of American history. He was a friend of other writers, became a reporter, and wrote John Brown’s Body, which won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The author worked in Hollywood intermittently. The script had to blend the real Webster with the legendary version. A number of scenes are embellishments of Benet’s story, mixing folklore, mysticism, and history. The character of Belle, for instance, is an invention of the film. Career overviews of Walter Huston, Edward Arnold, and James Craig are provided. Steven Smith talks about the score by Bernard Herrmann and chronicles the composer’s career working on CBS Radio, writing the score for Citizen Kane, and doing his own orchestrations. Influenced by composer Charles Ives, Herrmann also composed the scores for two radio dramatizations about Daniel Webster. Robert Wise, the editor of All That Money Can Buy, recalled that Edward Arnold had difficulty with his climactic monologue, so it was made up from several takes. All That Money Can Buy was challenging to the tastes of the time. The public and the press weren’t ready for it and didn’t do well at the box office. Val Lewton, a producer who made low-budget horror films at RKO, oversaw them with a style “spun directly out of All That Money Can Buy.”

Restoration Demonstration – Details are offered about the restoration and the recording of sound effects to be incorporated in All That Money Can Buy. Comparisons of before and after scenes show the removal of nitrate decomposition, dirt, splice marks, and cue marks. The restored scenes have greater clarity and detail delineation.

Reading of The Devil and Daniel Webster – Actor Alec Baldwin reads Stephen Vincent Benet’s original short story, recorded in 2003.

Episode of Observations on Film Art – Originally aired on the Criterion Channel in 2018, this episode of the series features film scholar Jeff Smith discussing the basics of continuity editing and showing how All That Money Can Buy adheres to that system while testing the limits of its expressive potential.

Version ComparisonsAll That Money Can Buy was first previewed as Here Is a Man on July 12, 1941. Although the overall content is similar, some stylistic flourishes and edits differ between that earlier print and the final cut. Those variations are presented here.

Radio Adaptations of Stephen Vincent Benet Stories – Author Stephen Vincent Benet wrote three short stories about his larger-than-life personification of the historic Daniel Webster: The Devil and Daniel Webster, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent, and Daniel Webster and the Ides of March. The Columbia Workshop presented radio dramatizations of the first two stories, both featuring music by Bernard Herrmann.

Booklet – The enclosed accordion-style booklet contains the essay The Devil Gets the Best Lines by Tom Piazza; the essay The Author Is Pleased by Stephen Vincent Benet, published just before the film’s 1941 premiere at Radio City Music Hall in New York City; cast and credits listing; and details about the film’s restoration.

All That Money Can Buy follows a predictable path, but director Dieterle’s meticulously fashioned sequences, a first-class cast (particularly Huston’s sinisterly impish performance), and a pervasive sense of the supernatural contribute to the film’s dark themes. What keeps the film from getting too somber are frequent examples of homespun humor and the simple gentleness of its human characters. Daniel Webster—combining logic, emotion, and defiance—is Jabez’s best chance of beating the devil at his own game.

- Dennis Seuling