In short, there used to be a greater emphasis on story. Characters would come together – often times under a single roof or just a few of them – and then there would be this catalyst for the drama to develop. Much ado would be made about these events – this, after all, was what brought these people together so that we could watch them succeed or suffer – and it would all be tied up in some understandable big finish. We didn’t have to like it, but rarely did the efforts make us feel unimportant if we merely didn’t like the flick … rarely did it make us feel inferior because these same folks knew they’d want us back in the theaters next week or next month … and rarely did one’s political affiliation factor even in the smallest way into the equation. You want a story? Here’s one. Like it or not, this is what you get.
Still, this doesn’t excuse the veritable cavalcade of – ahem – bad films that were churned out in the process. As far as genre entries go, the great Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed us that we could still come together to lampoon some of this stale fodder; and I suspect such a treatment would be warranted for The Devil’s Partner (1960), an underwhelming yet spooky attempt at delivering a supernatural-tinged concoction for the cineplexes of the past. Directed by Charles R. Rondeau from a story by Stanley Clements and Laura Jean Mathews (FYI: the only screen credit for both), Partner cast Edgar Buchanan, Jean Allison, Richard Crane, Specser Carlisle, and Byron Foulger in key roles in a story about one man’s pact with the Devil and his attempts to enjoy a newly-acquired youth in the arms of the town sweetheart … no matter how many lives he must sacrifice in the process.
Mayberry this ain’t, my friends.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“An old man sells his soul to the devil and turns into a young man. He then uses witchcraft and black magic to win a woman from his rival.”
With some older films, it’s honestly best not to make too much of them. Because they were crafted in simpler times – with simply effects work along with maybe some mildly dated influences – they were likely made far more for making a buck than they were in inspiring others for social change; and this is likely the case with the somewhat uninspired The Devil’s Partner.
Old man Pete Jensen lived a life that made few friends in Furnace Flats, New Mexico. In the opening of the picture, he’s shown slaughtering a goat in basically the living room of his one or two-room shack, only for audiences to watch in abject horror (meh, not so much) as a dark arm reaches in from off-screen in the attempt to join forces with old timer for only God (or Satan) knows. It isn’t long before Jensen’s adult nephew Nick Richards (played by Ed Nelson) shows up in town not only to close out the affairs of his deceased relative but also set up residence and maybe – just maybe – convince the perfectly fetching Nell Lucas (Jean Allison) to abandon her fiancé David Simpson (Richard Crane) and take up conjugal relations with him instead.
What viewers eventually come to learn is that angry ol’ Pete has apparently found his very own ‘fountain of youth:’ by making a pact with the grand master of the underworld himself Satan, Jensen reclaims his youth but concocts the identity of a distant nephew – Nick – in order to belay any suspicions surrounding his return. Now imbued with youth, vigor, and a healthy dose of witchcraft, he’s set his sights on a new life, this one with Nell at his side.
Sadly, the script never even gives any single player a scene or two of substance. What with the suggestion of controversy, a rational thinker might anticipate a sequence of shouting or disagreement; and yet it’s only a spectrally influenced dog attack that gets the blood flowing (yes, pun intended). Richards tries to muster up some Machiavellian ploy by using a few folks to achieve his dark ends, but even those get brushed over without any greater context much less discussion. The small cast all show up and hit their respective marks, no one actor or actress ever trying to eek out a bit of subtext to any suggestion of wider tension. The late Edgar Buchanan gets a few scenes as the town doctor who ends up calling the shots – heck, even the town sheriff pretty much answers to him, it would seem – making this 73-minute feel like it was longer than needed and more than desired in its final reel.
This isn’t to suggest in any way that being a product of its era kept Partner from being as impactful as it could have been. Features like 1955’s East Of Eden or even 1958’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof effectively pulled the Hollywood veneer off of the ‘Great American Family,’ and 1957’s Peyton Place is highly regarded for suggesting that small town life might conceal a great many activities we culturally would rather ignore. Coming on the heels of such cinematic triumphs, Partner could very easily have pushed the emotional envelope further than it tried – even with its mystic backdrop of sacrifice and Satanic ritual – and achieved solid results. The problem here is that … well … nothing was ventured so nothing was gained, and the resulting film serves more as a testimony to cheap storytelling than anything culturally or socially relevant.
The Devil’s Partner (1960) was produced by Huron Productions, Inc. DVD distribution (for this particular release) has been coordinated by the fine folks at Film Masters. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I thought that the provided sights-and-sounds to what’s reported as an all-new 4K restoration from original 35mm archival elements to be mostly solid. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? The disc boasts two video presentations (16:9 or 4:3), an audio commentary, some supporting documentary features, and a recut trailer for this new transfer. The packaging also includes some companion essays regarding this and a second feature provided with the set.
Alas … this one’s only mildly recommended.
Wow. What a stunningly wasted opportunity for what could’ve been, minimally, a genre entry into the growing film industry of the small-town melodrama. The Devil’s Partner squanders a clever idea with so much banal delivery. Heck, even a mildly talented community theatre cast could’ve done more if they had only been tempted with a stronger script. This one winds up feeling half-baked even though it didn’t need to turn out that way on screens big or small. A bit more time and a bit more effort could’ve had this one being a contender for fan attention … but as it stands it all feels a bit more misguided than anything else.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Film Masters provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Devil’s Partner by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.