Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Viewing: Mr. Skeffington, 1944

Warner Brothers Pictures

Fanny Trellis is beautiful. She’s the twinkle in the eye of every wealthy man in early Twentieth Century New York. She’s the girl everyone wants to marry. Yet, Fanny has a secret. Her brother, Trippy, has squandered the Trellis family fortune. They’re left with an enormous house and a staff and no way of paying for anything. Luckily, Tripp has a good job with Job Skeffington, a Jewish financeer. Or does he? When Mr. Skeffington arrives at a dinner party at the Trellis’ lavish townhouse, Trippy’s nefarious behavior is exposed.
But, that’s not the only thing that happens that night. Job Skeffington finds himself enchanted by Fanny and secretly commissions her portrait to be painted for him. Determined to find out the identity of her admirer, Fanny is pleased to learn that it is, indeed, Mr. Skeffington who fancies her. They enter into a marriage which Job knows is really to protect Trippy. But, the plan backfires. Ever-frustrated by Fanny’s vanity and selfishness, Job seeks comfort elsewhere. And, so does Fanny. When Fanny becomes ill and her beauty is ruined, will she discover that Job was correct when he said that “a woman is beautiful only when she’s loved?”

Warner Brothers Pictures
Set against a stunning historical backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York, this film explores the topics of narcissism, war, prejudice and fidelity. The sets are triumphs of the Warner Brothers designers of the period and Orry Kelly’s magnificent costumes are breathtaking.

Directed by Vincent Sherman, Bette Davis gives a remarkable performance as the fascinating Fanny Skeffington despite much chaos behind the scenes. Her frequent co-star Claude Rains plays Job Skeffington with his typical sympathetic and soulful charm. The chemistry between Davis and Rains is evident and you can immediately tell that these two dynamic performers relished working together. Fanny’s transformation from beauty to withered hag speaks to Bette Davis’ fearlessness as an actor. She had no trepidation about looking less-than-glamorous. In fact, she rather enjoyed the make-up and the challenge of playing “ugly.” It was this drive for realism which set Davis apart from the “stars” of her time.
Warner Brothers Pictures
This film is as touching as it is sumptuous and should be seen if you’re a fan of Davis and Rains, a devotee of classic films or a lover of period drama. Warner Brothers has made this title available on DVD, and I highly recommend it. To whet your appetite, here’s the 1944 trailer for the film.

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