AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Devil and Miss Jones
Director: Sam Wood (Dir)
Release Date:   11 Apr 1941
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Miami, FL: 4 Apr 1941
Production Date:   mid-Dec 1940--13 Feb 1941; retakes began mid-Mar 1941
Duration (in mins):   91-92
Duration (in feet):   8,280
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Cast:   Jean Arthur (Mary [Jones])  
    Robert Cummings (Joe [O'Brien])  
    Charles Coburn ([John P.] Merrick)  
    Edmund Gwenn (Hooper)  
    Spring Byington (Elizabeth [Ellis])  
    S. Z. Sakall (George)  
    William Demarest (First detective)  
    Walter Kingsford (Allison)  
    Montagu Love (Harrison)  
    Richard Carle (Oliver)  
    Charles Waldron (Noodles)  
    Edwin Maxwell (Withers)  
    Edward McNamara (Police sergeant)  
    Robert Emmett Keane (Tom Higgins)  
    Florence Bates (Customer)  
    Charles Irwin (Second detective)  
    Matt McHugh (Sam)  
    Julie Warren (Dorothy)  
    Ilene Brewer (Sally, little girl)  
    Regis Toomey (1st policeman)  
    Pat Moriarty (2nd policeman)  
    George Watts (Watchman)  
    Minta Durfee (Customer)  
    Fern Emmett (Second shopper)  
    Edna Hall (Fat shopper)  
    Walter Tetley (Stock boy)  
    Vic Potel (Attendant)  
    Frank Mills (Attendant)  
    Billy Elmer (Attendant)  
    Carol Dietrich (Blonde)  
    Pat Flaherty (Policeman)  
    Will Stanton (Pickpocket)  
    Garry Owen (Drugstore clerk)  
    Nicholas Soussanin (Man on rooftop)  

Summary: 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." 

Production Company: Frank Ross-Norman Krasna, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Sam Wood (Dir)
  Argyle Nelson (Asst dir)
Producer: Frank Ross (Pres)
  Norman Krasna (Pres)
  Frank Ross (Prod)
Writer: Norman Krasna (Wrt by)
Photography: Harry Stradling (Photog)
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase (Art dir)
  Albert D'Agostino (Assoc)
  William Cameron Menzies (Prod des)
Film Editor: Sherman Todd (Ed)
Costumes: Irene (Miss Arthur's clothes by)
Music: Roy Webb (Mus dir)
Sound: John L. Cass (Rec)
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker (Spec eff)
Production Misc: Whitney Bolton (Unit pub writer)
Stand In: Frances Kellogg (Stunt double)
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Frank Ross-Norman Krasna, Inc. 11/4/1941 dd/mm/yyyy LP10616

PCA NO: 6464
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
 
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  Department stores
  Employer-employee relations
  Impersonation and imposture
  Labor leaders
  Transformation
  Tycoons
 
Subjects (Minor): Butlers
  Camera shyness
  Cruises
  Detectives
  New York City
  New York City--Coney Island
  Proposals (Marital)
  Romance
  Shoe clerks
  Trade unions

Note: 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 HR , 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 NYT 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 LAEx 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 HR places Edward Fielding and Frank O'Connor in the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. News items in HR 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 Jan 1941, production was suspended for a week to enable Cummings to return to M-G-M for retakes on Free and Easy (see entry below), according to a Jan 1941 news item in HR .
       A Mar 1941 HR 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 19 Jan 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story. A 1966 news item in Var notes that Jean Arthur planned a remake of this picture, titled The Devil and Mr. Jones , in which she would star as the "Devil." 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   May 41   p. 223.
Box Office   12-Apr-41   
Daily Variety   7 Apr 1941.   
Film Daily   8 Apr 41   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   16 May 40   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Nov 40   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 40   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Jan 41   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jan 41   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Feb 41   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Feb 41   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Mar 41   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Mar 41   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Apr 41   p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner   16 May 1940.   
Motion Picture Herald   12 Apr 1941.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   22 Feb 41   p. 63.
New York Times   12 Jan 1941.   
New York Times   16 May 41   p. 21.
Variety   9 Apr 41   p. 16.
Variety   13 Oct 1966.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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