Cast & Crew
John P. Merrick, the richest man in the world, is visited by the directors of his various enterprises, who are greatly agitated because Merrick has been hung in effigy by the employees of a department store that he owns. Taking matters into his own hands, Merrick, who holds the working man in contempt, dismisses Tom Higgins, the detective hired to investigate the disturbance. Then, armed with a card from the personnel manager describing his mission as "confidential," Merrick, who has not been photographed for twenty years, poses as Higgins and goes to work as a salesclerk in the children's shoe department, "the hotbed of discontent." On his first day, Merrick is demeaned by Hooper, the section manager, and meets Mary Jones, a fellow clerk who thinks that Merrick is a pathetic old man. Taking pity on him, Mary loans Merrick fifty cents and introduces him to Elizabeth Ellis, another clerk, who shares her lunch with him. After work that day, Mary invites Merrick to join her for dinner at the automat and then takes him to a secret meeting of the store employees led by her sweetheart, Joe O'Brien, who, Mary proudly confides, hung Merrick in effigy. During the meeting, as Joe discusses the lack of job security endured by the store employees, Mary stands up to relate the sad story of "Higgins," the elderly shoe clerk who had to borrow money from her to eat. After the meeting, Merrick returns to his mansion, where he instructs George, his butler, to bring a little girl to the shoe department the next day to buy shoes. When George and his "daughter" appear in the shoe department, Merrick, planning to show up Hooper, asks Mary which shoes are the hardest to sell. After Mary points to the high-tops that carry an employee bonus of twenty-five cents per pair, Merrick is about to sell George five pairs when Hooper steps in to take over the sale. Infuriated by Hooper's high-handedness, Merrick is about to tell off his supervisor when Mary gives him a pep talk and invites him to join her, Joe and Elizabeth at Coney Island the next day. That night at the mansion, Merrick tells George that Joe exerts an evil influence on Mary and he plans to break them up, but at the beach next day, when Merrick questions Mary about Joe, she admits that she is in love with him. As the day draws to a close, Merrick becomes separated from his friends and is unable to locate the bathhouse in which he left his clothes. Exhausted from wandering the boardwalk, Merrick offers to sell his gold watch to a clerk for telephone change. Suspicious, the clerk calls the police, who take Merrick to the station for questioning. When Mary finds Merrick at the station, they begin to question her, too. At that moment, Joe and Elizabeth arrive at the station, and after Joe lectures the police about individual rights and begins to recite the Constitution, the officers decide to drop all charges rather than face the long- winded Joe in court. The four then return to the beach, and as Merrick and Elizabeth pretend to dose in the sand, Mary proposes to Joe. When Joe rejects her proposal and announces that he is leaving New York because he has lost the struggle to organize a union, Mary calls him a coward. In frustration, Joe throws down his list of the four hundred employees he has recruited and leaves. Merrick retrieves the list from the sand and offers it to Mary, but she tells him to keep it. On the train ride back to the city, Elizabeth confides to Merrick that she could never marry a rich man, prompting Merrick to wonder aloud if she would care for the "real me." Merrick's statement makes Mary suspicious, and after he and Elizabeth reach their stop and leave the train, Mary finds Merrick's identification card on his seat and calls her friend in the personnel department to search his files. After learning that "Higgins" is a private detective in the employ of Merrick, Mary returns home and finds Joe waiting at her door to apologize. When Mary informs him that Merrick is a store spy and has Joe's list, Joe schemes to retrieve it. He instructs Mary to lure Merrick into the storeroom the next day, where he can confront the spy. Joe is arrested by the store detectives, however, and Mary is left to her own devices. After a boot falls from a shelf and hits Merrick on the head, Mary feels guilty, and as she attempts to revive him, the store detectives arrive and take them both to the general manager's office, where Mary accuses Merrick of being a "Benedict Arnold in sheep's clothing." Joe and Mary's opinion of Merrick changes, however, when he accuses Allison, the general manager, of poor management. When Allison agrees to talk to the employees' representative, Mary hands him the list of four hundred whom Joe represents. After taking possession of the list, Allison announces that they are all morons, and Mary snatches back the list which she and Merrick then tear up and swallow. When Allison threatens to fire everyone on the fifth floor, Mary uses the store's public address system to rally the employees to walk off the job and organize. As the store employees picket the Merrick mansion, Merrick sneaks out the back door but is seen by the workers, who hail him as a hero. After Joe offers to let him carry Merrick's effigy, Merrick calls them inside to a meeting, where, much to Joe and Mary's dismay, the store directors treat the shoe salesman with subservience. When the directors address the salesman as "Mr. Merrick," Mary screams and Joe faints. All ends happily as Joe and Mary, Merrick and Elizabeth are wed, and Merrick takes all his employees on a cruise to Honolulu. As they dance the night away in the ship's ballroom, the now-contented employees begin to sing "for he's a jolly good fellow."
S. Z. Sakall
Robert Emmett Keane
John L. Cass
William Cameron Menzies
Van Nest Polglase
Vernon L. Walker
Best Supporting Actor
Best Writing, Screenplay
The Devil and Miss Jones
One of the funniest and most finely crafted comedies of the Forties, The Devil and Miss Jones (1941) was the first film made under the auspices of Frank Ross-Norman Krasna, Inc., a production company organized by producer Ross and screenwriter Krasna. Although they financed the film independently, it was distributed through RKO. A Lady Takes a Chance (1943) was the other film produced under this arrangement; it too starred Jean Arthur, who was Frank Ross's wife at the time. Krasna (1909-1984), who received an Academy Award nomination for the script to this film, had been nominated previously for his work on The Richest Girl in the World (1934) and Fritz Lang's Fury (1936). He finally won an Oscar® for Princess O'Rourke (1943), which he also directed. Originally a film and theater critic in New York, he started to write plays for Broadway at about the same time that he entered the film industry. Three of his plays--Dear Ruth, Who Was That Lady I Saw You With? and Kind Sir--were made into films; the latter became the Cary Grant/Ingrid Bergman vehicle Indiscreet (1958), Krasna's most successful film in the latter part of his career.
Veteran stage actor and Shakespeare director Charles Coburn (1877-1961) may not have begun acting in films until his mid-fifties, but by the time of his death he appeared in over seventy films and proved to be one of Hollywood's best character actors. Certainly, his ability to make the crusty millionaire J. P. Merrick lovable without resorting to excessive sentimentality is a mark of his skill as a comic actor. He played another millionaire opposite Jean Arthur again in The More the Merrier (1943); for that role he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In The Impatient Years (1944), he played Arthur's father. Given their natural rapport here, it's hard not to see why they were cast opposite each other again.
Colorado-born Spring Byington (1886-1971) started her acting career in Denver at the age of fourteen, touring throughout the U.S. and Latin America before making her Broadway debut in 1924 with A Begger on Horseback. One of her most successful roles was in the play When Ladies Meet, which was adapted into a film by MGM in 1941. Her film debut was as the mother in the 1933 version of Little Women. Other matronly roles during this period included Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and You Can't Take it With You (1938). She worked with Charles Coburn again in Louisa (1950). Her last film before retirement was the Doris Day vehicle Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960).
Other highlights of The Devil and Miss Jones are Sam Wood's precisely realized direction and William Cameron Menzies' production design, evident from the clever credit sequence in which Coburn and Arthur appear as "the Devil" and an angel, respectively. The opening scene, in which a series of business executive types emerge from limousines to visit Merrick at his mansion, is just one example of how well Wood uses camera placement, mise-en-scene and repeated actions for comic effect. The impossibly lavish, intricately worked design of Merrick's mansion and the soullessly modernistic department store contribute much to the atmosphere without stealing attention away from the performances.
Not surprisingly, The Devil and Miss Jones was warmly received by the critics upon its initial release. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times described the film as "the frothiest comedy [...] since The Lady Eve ." Variety singled out Sam Wood's direction and Coburn and Arthur's performances for praise. The script was later broadcast as a radio play for Lux Radio Theatre starring Lana Turner and Lionel Barrymore; the airdate was January 19, 1942. Jean Arthur was evidently fond of this particular film; in 1966 it was reported in Variety that she was planning a remake in which she would play the "Devil"; this time the film was to have been entitled "The Devil and Mr. Jones." Unfortunately the project never materialized and Shane (1953) remains the painfully shy actress's last feature film.
Producers: Frank Ross and Norman Krasna
Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Norman Krasna
Cinematographer: Harry Stradling
Editor: Sherman Todd
Music: Roy Webb
Production Designer: William Cameron Menzies
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker
Principal Cast: Charles Coburn (John P. Merrick); Jean Arthur (Mary Jones); Robert Cummings (Joe O' Brien); Edmund Gwenn (Hooper), Spring Byington (Elizabeth Ellis); S. Z. Sakall (George); William Demarest (First Detective); Walter Kingsford (Allison); Montagu Love (Harrison); Richard Carle (Oliver); Edwin Maxwell (Withers).
BW-93m. Closed Captioning.
by James Steffen
The Devil and Miss Jones
In the opening credits, a title for "The Devil" features an evil-looking Charles Coburn enveloped by a background of flames, and a title for "Miss Jones" pictures an angelic Jean Arthur wearing a halo. The credits contain the following foreword: "The richest man in the world: We made up the character in the story out of own heads. It is nobody, really. The whole thing is make-believe. We'd feel awful if anyone was offended. Thank you, the Author, Director and Producer. P. S. Nobody sue. P. P. S. Please."
According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, producers Norman Krasna and Frank Ross made a deal with RKO whereby Krasna and Ross furnished the financing for the film and RKO handled the distribution. A New York Times article adds that Krasna, director Sam Wood and star Jean Arthur worked under a profit-sharing arrangement in which they received no salary. An article in Los Angeles Examiner notes that this was the first production made under the banner of Frank Ross-Norman Krasna Inc. Krasna was a well-known screenwriter and Ross an established producer who was married at the time to Jean Arthur. A pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter places Edward Fielding and Frank O'Connor in the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. News items in Hollywood Reporter note that RKO negotiated with Warner Bros. to borrow Jeffrey Lynn to play the male lead. The studio finally borrowed Robert Cummings from Universal. In late January 1941, production was suspended for a week to enable Cummings to return to M-G-M for retakes on Free and Easy , according to a January 1941 news item in Hollywood Reporter.
A March 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that a new ending was filmed based on the reactions of a sneak preview audience. Scripts contained in the RKO Archives Script Files at the UCLA Arts Library-Special Collections reveal that in the film's original ending, Merrick, not Mary, rallied the store employees over the public address system. Afterward, at the Merrick mansion, Merrick's advisors, still unaware that their boss is the agitator, inform Merrick that they have photos of the troublemaker and have identified him as a jailbird from Seattle. After dismissing his advisors, Merrick completes plans for an elaborate party in which he intends to present his employees with new contracts. He then joins Mary, Joe and Elizabeth on the picket line outside the mansion and accepts the effigy of "Merrick." As they march past the mansion's windows, they all boo.
Charles Coburn was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor and Norman Krasna was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for their work on this film. Lionel Barrymore starred with Lana Turner, in her Lux debut, in a January 19, 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story. A 1966 news item in Variety notes that Jean Arthur planned a remake of this picture, titled The Devil and Mr. Jones, in which she would star as the "Devil."
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States 1982
Released in United States on Video June 1988
Released in United States 1941
Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Treasures from the World's Film Archives) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)
Released in United States on Video June 1988