Sandy Hobbs | Letters to Ambrose Merton # 20, 1999
In my first note on this topic, I mentioned a film Angel on my shoulder which at that time I had not seen. It was shown recently on BBC television, which has allowed me to clarify how the concept is employed in this context. The film, released by United Artists in 1946, concerns a dead gangster, played by Paul Muni, who is released from Hell by Mephistopheles, whose aim is to discredit a crusading judge by allowing the gangester to take over the judge’s body. The gangster is attracted to the judge’s fiancee and begins to move away from “bad” to “good” behaviour. They go to a clergyman’s home to ask him to marry them. The clergyman’s is interrupted while composing a sermon. In conversation, he says, in a way which suggests that he is quoting:
“Heed not Mephistopheles, my children, lest you suffer eternal damnation. When he whispers in your ear, turn away your head, and harken instead to the angel on your shoulder.”
The gangster asks: “What if you ain’t got no angel on you shoulder?” To this, the clergyman replies: “You have, if you live right, son”.
Can any reader suggest a source for this quotation?
Note that only the angel is explicitly said to be on the shoulder. Note too that it is Mephistopheles himself, not simple a devil, who is pictured as whispering in the ear. This could be done while sitting on the shoulder, but obviously equally well by a human sized figure standing beside you. Left and right does not appear as a feature in this case.
(The film, which was directed by Archie Mayo, was written by Harry Segall and Roland Kibbee, from an original story by Harry Segall.)