The film stars Bette Davis as a beautiful woman whose many suitors, and self-love, distract her from returning the affections of her husband, Job Skeffington. It also makes a point about Skeffington’s status as a Jew in 1914 high society and, later, in relation to Nazi Germany.
Elizabeth’s novel comes to the screen
‘Mr Skeffington’, by Elizabeth, came to the screen in 1944 with Claude Rains in the title role, Bette Davis as Fanny, Richard Waring as Trippy, Jerome Cowan as Edward, and others.
An absorbing and entertaining novel could only be buoyed up by the playing of Bette Davis as the self-absorbed Miss Trellis, who has no knowledge of the real world as it affects her friends and her family. Trippy’s money problems mean as little to her as the attentions of her tribe of young men. Fanny losing her beauty would be her greatest calamity …
As Job Skeffington, Trippy’s understanding boss, Claude Rains adds a touch of dryness and dignity to the role. The teaming between Rains and Davis gives plenty of zip to the film and makes the whole thing hugely enjoyable – there is a tragic undercurrent to this story that both actors could carry off completely.
‘Mr Skeffington’ is excellent and one of those great 1940s wallows they just don’t make anymore [sigh].
Very, very worthwhile
21 March 2007
This truly lavish melodrama really knocked me out. I simply did not find any significant weaknesses to this film, at least none of which others have alluded. Films of this type can easily become maudlin, insignificant, and flat. However, “Mr. Skeffington” is the result of a set of elements that are incorporated vibrantly. The film simply has a grand sweep to it, lifting it high above many others of this genre.
The staging and sets (in conjunction with Ory-Kelly’s costumes) are as good as any movie that I’ve seen, along the lines of “Gone With the Wind”, “Citizen Kane”, “Gigi”, or “Long Day’s Journey into Night”. The use of silence and spaciousness, along with noise and density, is brilliantly carried out and is extremely well-balanced by the characters’ non-verbal responses to each other. It’s hard to describe without providing details of given scenes – I would suggest that you watch it with this perspective and see what you think.
Speaking of scenes, length is the common enemy of films of this type, but not here – each scene plays out like a shining entity that still provides momentum and underpinning for the entire story. I counted at least 12 very memorable scenes. Humor is added strategically to most scenes to balance the starkness of the story and is nicely understated to avoid a sense of camp. Director Vincent Sherman has polished each scene like a diamond, and the effect is very powerful. The scenes really do stand on their own almost like a set of montages.
Bette Davis’ performance is decidedly affected as she plays Fanny as a young girl, but the pure talent and visual power of this actress makes one believe that she is truly the beauty that she is supposed to be. Notice how her movements and responsiveness reinforce the sense of someone almost 15 years younger than herself. While others have complained about the makeup of the older Fanny in portraying her change in age, I found that the makeup perfectly embodied the older Fanny because Davis plays the character so consistently to her advanced age. I would place this performance in Bette Davis’ top tier, along with “Now, Voyager”, “The Little Foxes”, and “All About Eve”.
Claude Rains plays the title character with restraint, integrity, and great love for Fanny, but the sense of pathos that he communicates really helps to give the movie a lot of power. The other acting performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Walter Abel as Cousin George. Without the strength of Abel’s characterization, this would have been a far weaker movie.
Franz Waxman’s score has been criticized by some as being extravagant and overly dramatic to the point of being startling. I really enjoyed it – Waxman incorporates a lush late romantic style that has a stronger “classical-music” feel than other scores for movies of this type, which tend to emphasize strings as accompaniment. The result is a feeling of complexity which shades the story along with the other elements.
This is easily Vincent Sherman’s best work, one of Ernest Haller’s best, and one of the best melodramas that I have seen. 10 out of 10.
Davis and Rains make magic once again!
23 May 1999
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a great movie. Bette Davis and Claude Rains are magnificent together, just as they were in “Now, Voyager” two years before. Bette Davis stars as Fanny Skeffington, whose self-absorption leads to the destruction of her devoted husband, Job (Claude Rains). Fanny continues to entertain her beaux, despite her marriage to Job. After a few years, Job decides to leave, knowing that Fanny only married him for his money. This is a true act of love on his part. So Fanny floats through life without a care in the world, and her admirers left and right.
After many years, Fanny contracts diphtheria and is on the brink of death. She recovers, but begins to look not only her age, but many years older. In a desperate attempt to reassure herself of her youth and beauty, Fanny invites all of her old boyfriends to a party at her house. They all, as she puts it, “recoil” from her, because she is no longer beautiful. Fanny feels abandoned and lonely.
But then, fate lends its hand. Fanny’s cousin, George, tells her that Job has returned. He has been in a concentration camp, and is not in good shape. He wants to see Fanny. Fanny however, doesn’t want Job to see what’s become of her. But with much pleading from George, she agrees to see him. When she reaches Job, she discovers that he is blind. So no matter how she looks, Job will always love her, and remember her for the beauty she had. But Fanny realizes that looks are not important, because of what Job said many years before: “A woman is beautiful only when she is loved”.
“Mr. Skeffington” is a classic. It can be a little long at some parts, but it’s worthwhile to see. It also features excellent performances by Walter Abel, George Coulouris, and Marjorie Riordan. I gave this movie a 9/10.
The Patience of Job
Author: theowinthrop from United States
17 March 2005
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
“Mr. Skeffington” is one of Bette Davis’ best performances, and the best of the four teaming with Claude Rains (“Now Voyager” does not have as many sequences with both of them sharing scenes as “Skeffington”). It is the story of a silly, vain woman who marries a man for his money, and to protect her brother. She fails to protect her brother, but she does find that the man she married is a better man than she deserves.
It is also an over-the-years tale, beginning about 1914, and involving World War I, prohibition, the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism, and ending in World War II.
Job Skeffington is a successful stock dealer and banker on Wall Street, and he is a rarity: he’s Jewish. Somehow he hires Fanny Trellis’s brother Trippy, who returns the favor by embezzling some funds. As Fanny and Trippy are socialites they are used to their friends covering up for their errors. But Job can’t simply allow this, because the money doesn’t belong to him but to his customers. When he approaches Fanny (gently – he just wants Trippy to return the money) Fanny pulls out her stops to entice him. It works and they marry. Job puts the money back himself. But Trippy is an anti-Semite, and is furious that Fanny sold herself to that Jew. He leaves in high anger. Later Fanny hopes that he will return after he gets it out of his system, but Trippy is killed in the war. Although it is not Job’s fault, Fanny does not quite forgive him for that.
She becomes more and more outspokenly unfaithful, much to Job’s chagrin and pain. Eventually it leads to a divorce. They have a young daughter who lives mostly with Job, and only joins Fanny later. But that is after a shock hits Fanny’s self-image…and sets the stage for a final reconciliation with Job.
All the performances in the film, Davis, Rains, Richard Waring, Walter Abel, Jerome Cowan, are excellent. But one of my favorites is the unexpected comic turn of George Coulouris as the popular psychologist, Dr. Byles. Coulouris usually was a humorless schemer in movies and television, but could rise to the occasion in comedy (witness his progressively increasing irritation as Walter Parkes Thatcher in “Citizen Kane”). Here he is ready to leave on a long planned, much needed vacation, when Fanny barges in to unload her misery and woe without so much as a scheduled appointment. By only showing the clock in the background to show the length she takes away from the boiling Dr. Byles, one is ready for the inevitable conclusion – when the good Doctor tells her off. And he is the first person to do so in the movie.