Black SplatThe Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)
   

"A soul is nothing."

The Devil and Daniel Webster - Satan, aka Mr. Scratch

Description: John Huston speaks his mind as Mr. Scratch in the motion picture The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941).

Mr. Scratch, (aka, the Devil) wanders among the towns of New Hampshire looking for a soul to steal. Opening his notebook, he sees the name of Jabez Stone and decides to seduce the man with promises of wealth and power.

Mr. Scratch is attracted to this simple New Hampshire farmer when he hears Jabez say, "That's enough to make a man sell his soul to the Devil. And I would for about two cents!” Soon after saying that fateful statement, the Devil appears and begins his sales pitch to buy the man’s soul in exchange for seven years of prosperity.

The Devil and Daniel Webster - Mr. Scratch and Jabez Stone

Examining, Mr. Scratch's contract, Jabez asks, "What does it mean here, about my soul? Mr. Scratch dismisses his concerns:

"Why should that worry you? A soul? A soul is nothing. Can you see it, smell it, touch it? No. This soul, *your* soul, are nothing against seven years of good luck. You'll have money and all that money can buy."

Jabez agrees to the deal, and the Devil requests "a firm signature. One that will last till doomsday." Jabez signs the contract in blood and soon gets everything he thinks he wants, but, over time, he realizes his wish for prosperity and wealth has destroyed his family.


Jabez Stone: But suppose a man got his money in bad ways?
Ma Stone: Wouldn't profit him none. You see, son: I'm old and I've lived. When a man gets his money ina bad way... when he sees the better course and takes the worse... then the devil's in his heart. And that fixes him.
Jabez Stone: And yet... a man could change all that couldn't he?
Ma Stone: A man can always change things. That's what makes him different from the barnyard critters.

At the end of seven years, the Devil comes for his property, but Stone recants "You promised me happiness, love, and friendship!" but the clever Mr. Scratch judiciously replies, "Just a minute. I promised you money and all that money could buy. I don't recall any other obligations." Realizing he has made a grave mistake, Stone seeks out lawyer Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) who tells Jabez, "I'd fight ten thousand devils to save a New Hampshire man."


Daniel Webster: [Webster examines Mr. Scratch's contract] This appears - mind you, I say appears - to be properly drawn. But you shan't have this man. A man isn't a piece of property. Mr. Stone is an American citizen... and an American citizen cannot be forced into the service of a foreign prince.
Mr. Scratch: Foreign? Who calls me a foreigner?
Daniel Webster: Well, I never heard of the de... I never heard of you claiming American citizenship.
Mr. Scratch: And who has a better right? When the first wrong was done to the first Indian, I was there. When the first slaver put out for the Congo, I stood on the deck. Am I not still spoken of in every church in New England? It's true the North claims me for a Southerner and the South for a Northerner, but I'm neither. Tell the truth, Mr. Webster - though I don't like to boast of it - my name is older in the country than yours.
Daniel Webster: Then I stand on the Constitution. I demand a trial for my client.
Mr. Scratch: You mean a jury trial?
Daniel Webster: I do! And if I can't win this case with a jury you'll have me, too. If two New Hampshire men aren't a match for the devil, we better give the country back to the Indians.

The Devil and Daniel Webster - The Trial of Jabez Stone

The Devil obliges Daniel Webster's wish for a jury trial and brings forth from the bows of hell a ghostly judge and jury of the dammed, including the likes of Benedict Arnold and such other American rouges and scoundrels Sam Grifty and Walter Butler.

In an attempt to sway the unearthly jury, Daniel Webster valiantly offers up his summation of the case:

"Gentlemen of the jury, tonight it is my privilege to address a group of men I've long been acquainted with in song and story, but men I had never hoped to see. My worthy opponent, Mister Scratch, called you Americans all. Mister Scratch is right. You were Americans all. Oh, what a heritage you were born to share.

Gentlemen of the jury, I envy you, for you were present at the birth of a mighty union. It was given to you to hear those first cries of pain and behold the shining babe, born of blood and tears. You are called upon tonight to judge a man named Jabez Stone. What is his case? He's accused of breach of contract. He made a deal to find a shortcut in his life, to get rich quickly, the same kind of a deal all of you once made.

You were fooled like Jabez Stone, fooled and trapped in your desire to rebel against your fate. Gentlemen of the jury, it is the eternal right of every man to raise his fist against his fate. But when he does, these are crossroads. You took the wrong turn. So did Jabez Stone. But he found it out in time. He's here tonight to save his soul.

Gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to give Jabez Stone another chance to walk upon this earth, among the trees, the growing corn, and the smell of grasses in the Spring.

What would you all give for another chance to see those things you must all remember and often yearn to touch again? For you were all men once. Clean American air was in your lungs and you breathed it deeply. For it was free and blew across an earth you loved. These are common things I speak of, small things, but they are good things. Yet without your soul, they mean nothing. Without your soul, they sicken.

Mister Scratch once told you that your soul meant nothing. And you believed him. And you lost your freedom. Now, here is this man. He is your brother. You were Americans all. You can't be on his side, the side of the oppressor. Let Jabez Stone keep his soul, a soul which doesn't belong to him alone but to his family, his son, and his country. Gentlemen of the jury, don't let this country go to the devil. Free Jabez Stone. God bless the United States and the men who made her free."

Daniel Webster's eloquent speech turns the tide as the jury of "American" damned votes in his favor. Defeated, Mr. Scrath leaves, but soon begins to look for another person desperate or foolish enough to sell their soul.


The Devil and Daniel Webster - Movie Title Credit


 
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