Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1941: Edward Arnold in The Devil and Daniel Webster

Edward Arnold did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Daniel Webster in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

The Devil and Daniel Webster is a film that does not necessarily have the strongest lead in James Craig's Jabez Stone, yet this does not really weaken the film thanks to the supporting players who essentially control film making Stone essentially a pawn in his owns story. The first being the embodiment of evil Mr. Scratch, played to perfection by Walter Huston, who temps Jabez Stone into giving away his soul for All That Money Can Buy for seven years. The second being the real life political figure Daniel Webster who is viewed in the story as the greatest politician to ever live, or at least in the view of the people of New England. Webster is played by Edward Arnold who is perhaps best known for playing cold authority figures often times in the films of Frank Capra. Sometimes he'd be given redemption, such as in You Can't Take It With You, but often times he personified the cruelty of authority without compromise. Arnold here plays an authority figure as well, but the complete opposite of those roles as before we see his character he is characterized by every one else as the man of the highest moral order. 

This is supported by his first scene where a shadowy figure, Mr. Scratch, speaks to him tempting him for a deal to ensure that he will one day become president. Arnold is great in these short little scene as treats them in such a matter of fact fashion. The first Arnold suggests to be almost the squashing of bad thoughts as the devil whispers temptation which he ignores as a bad headache until finally has to curse him out the room to put an end to it. That's not the only time though and they have a particularly humorous second encounter where Arnold once again treats him as a fact of life. This time he annoys him in public and I like the way Arnold just shrugs him off as though he's a common pest that just must be dealt with. Of course his ability to reject the offers of Mr. Scratch is not the only that makes Daniel Webster a special man. He's loved by the people as well and Arnold needs to be able to get that across as well. Arnold does this splendidly. Arnold in any role has an imposing screen presence, which he uses particularly artfully here. Arnold as Webster does not insist on his greatness, though he realizes it through still having that strong presence, but in the most gentle of ways. 

Arnold does well to establish Webster in his few scenes early on as he matches the descriptions he receives and is able to create a similar impact that Huston makes. Arnold is able to present Webster as a forceful man in his few moments as we see that which makes him the great man, yet along with it Arnold brings the softness. Not a weakness but rather a natural kindness that he always exudes showing the concern in Webster for others. He's only in a few scenes early on the film though Arnold makes a strong enough of a statement in those scenes that it is known exactly what Webster stands for and that he seems likely to be the only man who will be able to stand up against Mr. Scratch. Webster makes his reappearance back into the film just as Jabez Stone's contract is up and the only thing that Mr. Scratch will take for an extension is Stone's son. This leaves Stone to turn to Webster for help as the final showdown between Scratch and Webster in Stone's barn. The funny thing is in this final sequence that Stone might as well not be in the room since it unquestionably is a face-off between Arnold and Huston.

The final sequence contains what is so great about Arnold's performance as he takes on Mr. Scratch. Arnold importantly builds up the suspense of the scene rather well as he does give some momentary sense of fear as Webster prepares himself to defend Stone in a trial, with a jury picked by the devil. Arnold does not present Webster as an otherworldly figure himself, but rather a man who must overcome his own concerns to take on the devil. The challenge for Arnold comes in the speech he must give to jury, which is the only defense that Webster is allowed, to attempt to give Stone back his soul, the challenge is especially difficult considering that Webster was considered one of the all time great orators. Well Arnold matches the challenge head on, and is outstanding in the scene. He brings the incredible passion needed for the speech as he is brings out the convictions of the man so powerfully. What I love though is that Arnold brings the mediation in his speech. It is not just Webster telling them what is right but convincing them that it is. In this regard Arnold brings such a warmth in his words creating the sense of the palatable love Webster has for his country. He is able to bridge that in a persuasive fashion as Webster tells the damned jury what they missed by turning to the devil. Arnold makes the result of the trial of Stone believable since he makes Webster the great man he needs to be and a truly worthy opponent for Huston's Mr. Scratch.

14 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Is Huston a 5 in Supporting?

luke higham said...

KoooK160: I asked him on the 41' Lead results page, and confirmed that he is a 5 in Supporting.

Louis Morgan said...

After the re-watch he's very easily a five when incorrectly placed in lead as well.

Michael McCarthy said...

I never expected to see a year with 6 fives in supporting and only one in lead...

Anonymous said...

Ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

And we have 5 5's in 1941 supporting already. Wow

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Six. Don't forget Heflin is considered 1941 by Louis's rules.

Michael McCarthy said...

I do really wish Heflin was 1942, that's one of my all-time favorite supporting performances and be a landslide win in that year. As it is he may not even make the top 5.

RatedRStar said...

@Michael McCarthy: but.. but.. Claude Rains would have...lost =( lol.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Michael, Robert: I do think Van Heflin will be in the Top 5, because he literally is the only reason the film is effective at all, his performance really dominates the film, arguably even more so than Huston or Lorre. I think the final ranking will be:

Huston
Cregar
Van Heflin
Lorre
Greenstreet

With Arnold just missing out.

Also, new Star Wars trailer OMG

luke higham said...

GDSAO: The Trailer was excellent.

luke higham said...

GDSAO:
1. Huston
2. Lorre
3. Greenstreet
4. Heflin
5. Arnold
6. Cregar

Anonymous said...

Louis do you think that Susan Sarandon is leading or supporting in Atlantic City? What are your rating and thoughts on her performance?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Eh I'll just give you the ratings since I wrote my thoughts twice but they were deleted.

Craig - 2.5
Shirley - 2.5
Darwell - 3.5
Simon - 3
Qualen - 3.5
Warner - 3

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

I liked that trailer much more than the last one. I have to say I'm glad they are not giving any plot details.

Anonymous:

4 and leading.