James Craig as Jabez Stone is always on the edge of hysteria, a man rushing headlong to his doom from the first time we see him. Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch has a comic intensity that deliberately runs against traditional notions of the devil, though at times the lighting is extremely low-key in order to create shadows in his features to evoke a vision of smiling evil. The most direct and natural performance in the film is that of Edward Arnold as Daniel Webster, for he is the voice of reason, the messenger from the real world and from history, the man from New Hampshire who fought the devil and won. The use of Webster and the reference to the myth in the opening of the film links the story to American mythology and to the optimism and certainty of life in the New World and thus to our vision of what has made America great.
Most of the film is dark and foreboding. It is bright when Daniel Webster arrives in the area on a speaking tour, and it becomes bright again once Mr. Scratch has been sent back to the underworld and Jabez has been released from his bond. Evil is dark and frightening, and it is always present--Mr. Scratch appears in the barn as if passing by. He hears his name spoken and there he is--he is always watching and listening, waiting to answer the call. He is deceitful. His world is a world of weariness and pain, as can be seen from the faces of the terrible group he summons to be his jury.
The pacing of the film also contributes to the sense of unreality. The story moves rapidly along, introducing fantastic elements seemingly from nowhere in a way that turns the world upside down--Mr. Scratch kicks the ground and a chest of gold pops up; Scratch lights his cigar without benefit of a match; a man dances to death and his soul escapes as a butterfly speeding away in the night. All of this prepares the viewer for the opening of the doorway to hell