Mr. Skeffington (1944)

“I married the woman everyone else wanted to.”

Mr Skeffington Poster

Synopsis:
A narcissistic socialite (Bette Davis) marries a wealthy Jewish businessman (Claude Rains) to ensure that she and her shiftless brother (Richard Waring) are financially secure — but her marriage to Job Skeffington (Rains) remains loveless, and she continues to entertain a bevy of suitors until her looks finally begin to fade.

Genres:

Review:
Vincent Sherman faced notoriously challenging circumstances during his filming of Elizabeth von Armin‘s historical novel — primarily the death of Davis’s husband one week into shooting, which led to Davis making life miserable for just about everyone on the set (including Sherman himself, her on-and-off-again lover). The resulting film is a sluggish, tonally inconsistent “women’s drama” which never really finds its footing and feels too long by half. Davis, though enthusiastic, is simply miscast as a flirtatiously irresistible beauty who’s never at a loss for suitors (who in turn come across more like a comedic Greek chorus than realistic supporting characters). Rains is as invested as always in the title role — but he’s really secondary to the proceedings; this tale should have been called Fanny Skeffington instead, given that it’s primarily concerned with tracking Davis’s predictably disastrous fall-from-grace, hastened by a convenient bout of appearance-wracking diphtheria. To that end, the final portion of the film — in which the hideously transformed Fanny finally gets her comeuppance — provides the most entertainment value, in a gruesomely baroque manner; one can’t help thinking of Davis’s later Grand Guignol performances when viewing her mask-like visage (see still below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A grotesquely baroque tale of feminine narcissism turned sour
    Mr Skeffington Face
    Mr Skeffington Curls
    Mr Skeffington Mirror

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its curiosity value.

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One Response to “Mr. Skeffington (1944)”

  1. In agreement here – not a must. It is definitely unwieldy and too long. But I guess it’s designed as more-bang-for-the-buck soap opera (of the period). It’s also (once it’s over) oddly forgettable, even if it has been handsomely produced and is acted and directed well. As with some other roles (i.e., ‘Beyond the Forest’), Davis does emerge triumphant even if she is not seamlessly suited as the character. In this case, she *understands* how Fanny operates as a much-desired woman, and that shines through. Oddly, though, Fanny is a lot more interesting as a character early on – before she slips into the automatic pilot of being endlessly adored.

    Normally, a film of this type *would* be named for the female lead (as the review suggests) but, on thinking about, it seems to me that Rains’ character sets the moral standard aimed for in the story…so I rather like that the film is named after Job.

    On a rewatch after many years, I did find my interest falling under the weight of the film’s length. But the film does have a fair share of compelling scenes and is a fairly chilling document of the inherent dangers of vanity.

    If for no other reason, the film is worth catching for the terrific interplay between Davis and Rains as actors – they are perfectly matched as acting equals. (Walter Abel, a fine actor, also lends solid support here.)

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