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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: March 12th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1941

All That Money Can Buy (a.k.a. The Devil and Daniel Webster) - Criterion Collection

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: David Krauss
A masterful telling of the timeless short story The Devil and Daniel WebsterAll That Money Can Buy has been given the red carpet treatment by the Criterion Collection. The story of a struggling New England farmer who sells his soul to Lucifer in an effort to turn his life around looks and sounds devilishly good on Blu-ray and features Criterion's usual top-quality spate of supplements. Highly Recommended

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
106
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Audio Commentary by film historian Bruce Eder and Steven C. Smith, biographer of composer Bernard Herrmann, New Restoration Demonstration, Reading by actor Alec Baldwin of the short story by Stephen Vincent Benet on which the film is based, Episode of the Criterion Channel series ‘Observations on Film Art’ about the film’s editing, Comparison of the differences between the July 1941 preview version of the film, ‘Here Is a Man,’ and the film’s 1943 rerelease as ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’, The Columbia Workshop’s radio adaptation of Benet’s short stories ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’ and ‘Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent,’ both featuring music by Herrmann, Trailer
Release Date:
March 12th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Temptation has been a prevalent theme throughout film history, and the devil who uses it to lead vulnerable souls astray has been portrayed by such esteemed actors as Jack Nicholson (The Witches of Eastwick), Robert De Niro (Angel Heart), and Al Pacino (The Devil's Advocate), but only one actor has ever been nominated for an Oscar for his turn as Satan. That actor is Walter Huston and the movie that contains his bravura performance is All That Money Can Buy.

More commonly known as The Devil and Daniel Webster (the title All That Money Can Buy was dropped when the picture was significantly re-edited after its initial run), director William Dieterle's absorbing, provocative, and beautifully crafted film is based on the famous short story by Stephen Vincent Benét, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The cautionary tale depicts what happens to Jabez Stone (James Craig), a struggling farmer in 19th century New England, who makes a pact with the devil, personified here as a rascally, unkempt hillbilly named Mr. Scratch (Huston). In return for riches and seven years of prosperity, Jabez agrees to sell his soul to Scratch.

Jabez's wife (Anne Shirley) and mother (Jane Darwell) remain loyal to him, but believe their newfound wealth is tainted. They also disapprove of Jabez's selfish, arrogant, and heartless behavior, which increases after the birth of Jabez's son and arrival of Belle (Simone Simon), a sexy maid/nanny sent by Scratch to further corrupt Jabez. As the seven years come to a close, Jabez fears for his impending fate and beseeches the renowned lawyer and statesman Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) to argue his case before a jury comprised of some of the most notorious spirits in American history.

All That Money Can Buy is an often visually arresting film, punctuated by well executed special effects and distinguished by Joseph August's artistic cinematography. Its literate, lyrical script pointedly and poetically conveys the universal themes and Dieterle, with an able assist from Bernard Herrmann's Oscar-winning music score, creepily depicts them. At times, All That Money Can Buy evokes such diverse fare as Rosemary's BabyA Christmas Carol, and even It's a Wonderful Life (although it pre-dates two of the three), and Deiterle masterfully juggles the supernatural with reality to fashion a truly disturbing, ahead-of-its-time film. Best known for helming such classic fare as The Life of Emile Zola (for which he nabbed his sole Best Director Oscar nomination) and the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dieterle would bring the same mystical sensibility to the romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie several years later.

The cast doesn't feature any major stars, but is populated by an array of fantastic character actors who lend essential gravity to the material. Craig was a journeyman who never achieved full-fledged stardom, but he files arguably his best performance here, projecting frustration, pomposity, and desperation with equal conviction. Shirley at times too closely resembles Olivia de Havilland's Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind in look and manner, but her sincerity and angelic aura nicely offset Craig's coarseness. Darwell, fresh from her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath, brings her typical salt-of-the-earth authenticity to Jabez's mother and Simon sparkles as the coquettish femme fatale who bewitches Jabez. Such recognizable performers as Gene Lockhart, H.B. Warner (who looks a little like Nosferatu in his eerie portrayal of the notorious Judge Hathorne), and John Qualen also contribute excellent work.

Thomas Mitchell shot several scenes as Daniel Webster, but an on-set accident forced him to withdraw from the film. (He suffered a severe head injury when he was thrown from a horse-and-buggy and spent 17 weeks in the hospital.) Arnold replaced him, reportedly on only a day's notice, but his finely etched portrayal of Webster, who harbors lofty political ambitions and resists the devil's repeated offers to help realize them, belies his lack of preparation. Though he specialized in playing corrupt men of power, Arnold embraces the upstanding, moralistic Webster and his impassioned speech on behalf of Jabez at the climax stands as one of the movie's most rousing episodes, largely because the oration doubles as a thinly veiled plea to contemporary audiences to reject the evil that was attacking the world order and endangering liberty at the time. Less than two months after the premiere of All That Money Can Buy, the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and drag the U.S. into World War II, and Webster's prescient speech beseeches anyone who might doubt the seriousness of the global situation to wake up and realize our collective souls, not just Jabez's, are at stake. His words still sting and ring true today.

And yet it's Scratch who scratches his way into our consciousness and makes the most indelible impression, thanks to Huston's broad, colorful, and oh-so-seductive performance. (Huston himself didn't make any deals with the devil because he lost the Best Actor Oscar to Gary Cooper for Sergeant York.) The seeds of Howard in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which would finally earn Huston a supporting Oscar in 1948, are certainly planted in Scratch, whose mile-wide grin, folksy speech pattern, screechy vocal tones, and animated facial expressions instantly call to mind the cynical, grizzled prospector he would portray in that film. Long before Nicholson arched his brows, curled his lips, and flashed his signature wild-eyed glare, Huston was coining the look and bringing the devil down to - or should I say up to - earth. The elder Huston's talent oftens gets overshadowed by his son John's directorial prowess, but this film reminds us yet again that Walter was one of the all-time greats.

All That Money Can Buy earned plaudits at the time of its release, but never gained popular favor. Even under the more recognizable title of The Devil and Daniel Webster it strangely remains a little-known film. Brutally butchered after its initial theatrical run, the movie was fully restored to its original 107-minute running time in the 1990s after a complete print was found. This Criterion edition truly revitalizes this 83-year-old film, restoring not only its picture and sound, but also its power and resonance. Watch it today and you'll be surprised how relevant All That Money Can Buy still is. As the prologue so aptly warns, "Yes - it could even happen to you."

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
All That Money Can Buy arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard Criterion case. A 12-page, fold-out booklet featuring a 2003 essay by author Tom Piazza, a 1941 New York Times essay by co-screenwriter Stephen Vincent Benét, cast and crew listings, and transfer notes is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is LPCM mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

According to the liner notes, "The 4K restoration of All That Money Can Buy 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 new digital master was created from the 35 mm nitrate original camera negative and a German 35 mm nitrate duplicate picture negative and scanned in 4K resolution." The resulting 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is truly breathtaking. With all the photographic effects and moody settings, faithfully honoring the exquisite cinematography by Joseph August, who would earn an Oscar nomination for his final film (Portrait of Jennie) before his untimely death at age 57 in 1947, is a tough ask, but this transfer rises to every challenge and exceeds expectations.

Incredibly film-like with natural but not excessive grain, the image boasts superior clarity and contrast, both of which showcase the creative play of light and shadow that distinguishes the movie. Deep blacks, well-defined whites, and varied grays produce a vibrant, balanced picture that brims with detail and depth. Excellent shadow delineation keeps crush at bay most of the time and dazzling close-ups highlight pores, faint wrinkles, facial hair, beads of sweat, and tears. Background elements and reflections are sharp and only a few errant nicks mar the practically pristine source material. Though I don't have the 2003 DVD for comparison purposes, the clips included from that DVD on the supplemental material show just how much improved this Blu-ray transfer is. If you're a fan of this movie, you'll definitely want to upgrade.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The liner notes state "the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from a 35 mm track print of the 1943 rerelease 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)." Any movie with a Bernard Herrmann music score deserves top-notch audio, especially one that earned the iconic composer his only Academy Award, and this LPCM mono track delivers. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of the often dissonant, creatively engineered music without any distortion, while sonic accents like a squealing pig, ringing church bells, shrieks, and thunder are crisp. All the dialogue is clear, well prioritized, and easy to comprehend and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude. This high-quality track fills the room with ease and keeps us immersed in the on-screen action. Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Special Features

Ranking:

Most of the extras from the 2003 Criterion DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray release. (The photo gallery and an examination of Bernard Herrmann's music score are not included.) Criterion also adds a program that aired on the Criterion Channel in 2018 and the film's original trailer. As usual, all the material is first rate.

  • Audio Commentary - Recorded in 1991 and updated in 2003, this commentary features film historian Bruce Eder and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith. Eder provides a production history of the film, points out restored footage, relates historical info, and notes how the screenplay mirrors contemporary society despite its period setting. He also supplies cast and crew bios, identifies the differences between Benét's short story and his screenplay, explains how a key special effect was achieved, and shares plenty of trivia and anecdotes (including a horrific account of the accident that took actor Thomas Mitchell out of the movie). Smith only speaks for about 15 minutes, but makes the most of his time, analyzing Herrmann's score, discussing his innovative techniques, and describing his temperamental personality. This is an essential commentary that greatly enhances one's appreciation of this classic film.

  • Version Comparison (HD, 5 minutes) - This brief piece shows the minuscule differences between the preview version of All That Money Can Buy, which was originally titled Here Is a Man, and the final cut. The opening credits and three scene snippets are compared.

  • "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (34 minutes) - Actor Alec Baldwin reads the short story by Stephen Vincent Benét upon which All That Money Can Buy is based.

  • "Observations on Art" (HD, 13 minutes) - This program, which aired on the Criterion Channel in 2018, features Professor Jeff Smith expounding on "continuity editing" and how it's used in All That Money Can Buy. Smith discusses such techniques as "match on action," cross-cutting, ellipses, dissolves, the axis of action, the eyeline match, point-of-view shots, and shot-reverse-shots and uses examples from the movie to illustrate them.

  • The Columbia Workshop Radio Broadcasts (60 minutes) - Half-hour adaptations of two Stephen Vincent Benét stories, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1938) and Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent (1937), are presented as part of the long-running Columbia Workshop series. Both feature music by Bernard Herrmann.

  • Restoration Comparison (HD, 6 minutes) - In addition to the typical before-and-after comparisons, this piece includes a brief history of the film's various incarnations, provides details about the video and audio restoration, and includes fascinating tidbits about the movie's state-of-the-art (at the time) soundscape, restored material, and historical connections.

  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1 minute) - The film's original preview promises "Weird thrills!" "Hypnotic fascination!" and "Powerful emotional impact!"

Final Thoughts

Creatively directed, impeccably acted, and featuring an Oscar-winning music score, All That Money Can Buy remains an enduring study of the insidious nature of evil and depicts how easily the dark side can seduce us. The Criterion Collection honors this little-known but highly effective film with a stunning 4K remaster that showcases its arresting visuals. Excellent audio and a substantive supplemental package also distinguish this superior Blu-ray release. Highly Recommended.

Order Your Copy of The Criterion Collection's All That Money Can Buy on Blu-ray