November 1, 2013
Abstract: Based on extensive archival research, this article explores William (Wilhelm) Dieterle’s 1941 film “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” an American adaptation of Goethe’s Faust , as an anomalous instance of Hollywood setting critical theory into practice. Dieterle was a German émigré who had worked with Murnau and Reinhardt in Berlin and become an accomplished Hollywood director. At Dieterle’s request, his friend Horkheimer discussed the script with members of the New-York-based Institute for Social Research before filming began and provided Dieterle with a detailed report. Subsequent script development and the final (reconstructed) cut provide evidence of Dieterle’s thoughtful engagement with critical theory as he strategized about circumventing American cinema censorship in order to pose questions about America’s political and moral legitimacy at a time when the US had not yet declared war on Germany. In the final analysis, he winds up closer to Goethe’s critical political vision in Faust, zweiter Teil .