Sunday, 1 September 2013

Self-confidence and redemption: Themes in The Devil and Max Devlin

The cover of the paper back version
of "The Devil and Max Devlin".
There is something to be said about self-confidence. It can make all the difference in the world. So much so that some people would go so far as to sell their very souls to the devil to get it.

The same goes for redemption. It is never too late to do the right thing for the right reasons.

Such is the premise of the 1981 Disney movie "The Devil and Max Devlin". It stars Elliott Gould as Max Devlin and Bill Cosby as the devil "Barney Satin" (read "Satan"). Max is a pretty despicable character, a slumlord who is hit by a car and killed.

He meets Barney who offers him a bargain. If he can deliver three uncorrupted souls to the devil, Max can have is life back. He has three months to complete the job too.

We see the first hint of conscience in Max when he exclaims the three souls all belong to children. Yet, Max knows what is at stake when he returns to earth.

The movie is then broken into three story lines whereby Max goes about masquerading as various men to ingratiate himself into the lives of his three victims. One is Toby Hart, a boy, played by Adam Rich of "Eight is Enough" fame, who really just wants a dad. Another is a teenage nerd "Nerve" Nordlinger, who wants to be popular, and figures being a motocross racer will do it. The final one is a young lady, Stella Summers, played by Julie Budd, who wants to be a famous singer, but can't seem to carry the slightest hint of a tune.

Max is endowed with some supernatural abilities which allow him to fulfill these dreams. He proposes to the Toby's mother, turns "Nerve" into a motocross racer, and Stella into a singing sensation.

As the deadline approaches, and they all sign "contracts" with Max, their personalities change and become, as he describes them, monsters. Barney responds that they all belong to him now.

Max has second thoughts about what he has done, and when he discovers the three youth will be taken instantly and not after they naturally die, he wants out of the deal. Barney warns it will be a living nightmare for Max, but he burns their contracts anyway. The movie ends with Stella about to go on stage. Max tells her she can't because she will bomb, although he can't reveal he was propping her up all along. She tells him she won't. You see Max believed in her and now she believes in herself. She goes on stage, and is sensational, singing "Roses and Rainbows". As the time approaches that he will be whisked off to hell, he stays. He saved his own soul by saving the others. The movie ends with him looking heavenward and mouthing a silent, "Thank you".

All it took was the power of belief to instill the self-confidence she needed to succeed.

In search of a sound track
There doesn't seem to be a movie today where you can't purchase the soundtrack, or individual songs you hear in it.

That wasn't always the case. The best example is "The Devil and Max Devlin". After I saw that final scene, I could not get that song out of my head. The following Saturday, my family went to Lethbridge for our weekly shopping trip. We stopped at Anglo's Stereo and Photo, which was the best music store in the city. Some movie sound tracks had already made it, so I was not completely off base to expect one for "The Devil and Max Devlin". Yet, no one had even heard of the movie, much less seen a sound track.

The best I could settle for, as I did with other movies, was buy the paper back.

Now, through the power of YouTube, "Roses and Rainbows" appears before you.

I'm glad I re-discovered the movie, and found the song, because it really struck a chord with me. So did the movie. If you do the right thing, for the right reason, redemption is always possible. Just ask Max Devlin.

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