Based upon a well-known story, The Devil and Daniel Webster has many of the makings of an excellent film, yet the end result, while quite good and worth watching, is not the special product it might have been. The biggest drawback is in its casting of the central role, which is neither the Devil nor Daniel Webster but the character Jabez Stone, whose soul is at the center of the conflict. The title characters are more memorably drawn and offer more delights, but Stone is the real center of the story, and the performance that James Craig offers is far from adequate. Craig's dramatic instincts are far too basic, giving the character an obviousness that is damaging. More problematic is that the actor cannot make the character likeable; this is admittedly a chore, given the way he is written, but it's crucial to the film's ultimate success, and Craig's failure here is a definite demerit. Fortunately, Walter Huston as Scratch and Edward Arnold as Webster are on hand to add some magic to the film, and they do far more than is required of them. Arnold, shading his basically good character with bits of pomposity, grabs hold of his big moments, delivering them both thunderously and in quite tones that create their own thunder. Even better is Huston, a dandy devil that is simply too much fun. He has so much life and fire and wit in him that it's easy to understand why people fall prey to his temptations. An added bonus is Bernard Herrmann's fascinating and perfectly-attuned score, which carries much of the storytelling on its own.
by Craig Butler review