I know the title question for this is somewhat vague, so I apologize for that in advance, but I'm looking for the name of a fairy tale/legend that I saw on TV probably close to 30 years ago (circa 1980-ish). Here's the basic upshot:

  • I was young, somewhere between four and ten. I'm pretty sure it aired on our local PBS channel as part of their typical daytime educational TV and the only reason I saw it was because I was home from school with an illness.
  • I remember it looking like a drama that took place during the American colonial period.
  • The legend revolved around a young, good-looking man who made a deal with the devil to make him rich, possibly with a purse of gold that is never empty.
  • The bargain hinged on the typical "the devil gets your soul" deal.
  • I think the "get out of Hell free card" in the bargain was that if the young man could get a woman to agree to marry him within a certain amount of time (I can't recall how long - I seem to remember it being several years) he would be off the hook for losing his soul. I could be mis-remembering this detail, though.
  • The catch to the bargain was that he could not bathe, groom, clean himself, or change his clothes during that certain amount of time, so he ended up looking pretty nasty. He also couldn't tell anyone about his deal with the devil.
  • I remember the hook for the young man getting married was that he saved the life of a local land-owner who had some daughters (I think there were three of them) and in return for saving the land-owner's life he was promised one of the daughters as a bride. The elder daughters shunned him because of his disgusting appearance but the youngest daughter grudgingly accepted her fate. The young man breaks a gold ring in half (possibly bites it in half) and leaves half with her, telling her he will be back for her in the future (possibly at midsummer or some other significant date on the calendar) and she will know it is him because he will have the other half of the ring.
  • The part that really sticks with me came after he got the promise from the daughter to marry him. He goes back to the devil to prove that he completed his end of the bargain. The devil agrees that he has been bested and tries to leave. The young man stops him and tells him that since it was this bargain that made him this dirty that the devil will make him clean again. This kicked off a montage of the devil "cleaning" the man: peeling his now-nearly-attached-to-his-skin clothing off him, bathing him, cutting his hair and nails, etc.
  • The young man, now cleaned, groomed, and dressed in finery, returns to the land-owner to claim his bride (possibly during a party the land-owner is throwing). None of them recognize him in his now-clean form. The land-owner's elder daughters, smitten by the young man's good looks, throw themselves at the young man. The young man is amused by this and plays along until the point where he reveals himself to the youngest daughter by providing her with the other half of the ring that he left with her. I think he drops it in her glass of wine.

My Google-fu thus far has failed me. Can anyone point me in the direction of a title for this movie/tale?

  • 17
    I think that man worked in a cubicle next to me for a long time after he had to stop bathing...
    – Tango
    Commented Nov 30, 2011 at 22:26
  • 1
    Thanks TechParadox for asking this question. And thanks gnovice and Keith for the answers. I've had the same episode rolling around in my head for decades...particularly the scene showing the membrane that formed between the clothes and his skin...and the moan of pain and relief as it was peeled off. Glad to finally have an answer!
    – user12728
    Commented Feb 23, 2013 at 13:06

3 Answers 3


There appear to have been a few variants of this fairy tale, which generally shows up under the name Bearskin. A couple versions I found (the first sounds like the one you may have seen):

(You can chalk this answer up to tvtropes, a link to which I found when googling "deal with the devil clean".)

The creator (Tom Davenport) is now streaming his Brothers Grimm works, including Bearskin.

  • I could have sworn it was older than '84, but that's definitely the tale I was remembering. I'll have to check out those YouTube links when I get home as my workplace blocks video content. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 16:28
  • 1
    @TechParadox: It's listed as '82 in the first link I have above, but IMDB has it as '84. The former may refer to when it was first aired as part of the "From The Brothers Grimm" PBS series, and the latter when it was later released on VHS.
    – gnovice
    Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 16:36

The story you're referring to is "Bearskin", a German folk tale collected and written down by the Brothers Grimm.

The initial premise was that a soldier in a war that has just ended is now penniless (the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and the American Civil War are common in American versions of the tales, but the original folk tale would have been some war in Europe involving Germany, possibly the Napoleonic Wars). The devil appears and promises him riches beyond his wildest dreams, if he takes the bargain. While he wears the bearskin, the young man will always find gold in a pocket of the skin darned by the Devil himself. When the deal is over after 7 years, before the young man takes the bear skin off, he pulls a mountain of gold out of its pockets. A common variation is that since he's won, any clothes he wears will always have gold in the pockets just as the bearskin did.

You may have seen a TV adaptation of this story as part of the PBS series "Tales From The Brothers Grimm"; I remember seeing this one, and it plays out almost exactly as you describe in your OP. You can buy it on DVD on Amazon.

  • +1'd for the Amazon link. I may have to pick that series up so I can share the stories with my nieces & nephews. Commented Nov 14, 2011 at 16:29
  • Possibly worth mentioning that one of the themed twists of the tail is that many versions of it have the devil gloating that while he did not get that man's soul, he did get the soul of the two sisters who were rejected, who committed suicide upon having lost. It's one of those early cases of the bad guy winning.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 1:25

There is also another one called The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli about a rich man called Don Giovanni who after a tidal wave loses everything, he then meets A well-dressed stranger who gives him a magic purse that will give him an unlimited amount of gold so long as he goes 7 years without bathing.

It's an interpretation of "Don Giovanni de la Fortuna", an Italian folktale.

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    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 12:11

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