Mr. Skeffington

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Mr. Skeffington
Mr. Skeffington.jpg
Original poster
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Produced by Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Jack L. Warner
Written by Elizabeth von Arnim
Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Starring Bette Davis
Claude Rains
Music by Franz Waxman
Paul Dessau
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release dates
  • May 25, 1944 (1944-05-25)
Running time 145 min.
Country United States
Language English

Mr. Skeffington is a 1944 American drama film directed by Vincent Sherman, based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim.

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.

It stars Claude Rains as Skeffington, along with Walter Abel, George Coulouris and Richard Waring.

Plot[edit]

In 1914, spoiled Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis) is a renowned beauty, with many suitors. She loves her brother Trippy (Richard Waring) and would do anything to help him. When Fanny learns that Trippy has embezzled money from his stockbroker employer Job Skeffington (Claude Rains), she marries the lovestruck businessman in order to save her brother. Disgusted by the arrangement, in part because of his prejudice against Skeffington being Jewish, Trippy leaves home to fight in the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I.

Job loves Fanny, but she is merely fond of him and largely ignores him. She becomes pregnant with his child, but, when Trippy dies in France, she states she is "stuck" with Job, and the marriage then becomes wholly loveless, continuing only for the child's sake. Job and Fanny's cousin, George Trellis, also enlist but remain stationed near home.

Fanny enjoys playing the wealthy socialite, stringing along a persistent quartet of suitors who are unfazed by her marriage, as well as much younger lovers. Lonely, Job finds solace with his secretaries. When Fanny finds out, she divorces him, conveniently ignoring her own behavior.

Their daughter, also called Fanny, prefers her father and begs him to take her with him to Europe. Although Job fears for his child and tries unsuccessfully to explain to her the nature of prejudice she will encounter as a Jew abroad, he finally, tearfully and joyfully, says yes to her. Fanny is relieved to be free of the encumbrance of a child. Fanny has a series of affairs, living well on the extremely generous settlement Job has left her, half his fortune, and hardly giving a thought to her daughter, whom she does not see for many years.

She retains her beauty as she grows older (much to the envy of her women acquaintances), but when she catches diphtheria, it ravages her appearance. In denial, she invites her old lovers (and their wives) to a party. The men are shocked (and the women relieved) by how much Fanny has changed, leaving her distraught. Ironically, her latest young suitor Johnny Mitchell falls in love with her kind daughter (played as an adult by Marjorie Riordan), who has returned from Europe because of the rise of the Nazis. They marry after only a few months and leave for Seattle. Fanny is left alone with her maid, Manby.

Fanny's cousin George (Walter Abel), who has wryly observed Fanny's self-centeredness all along, brings Job back to Fanny's home, unannounced. The Nazis have left Job penniless and worse, George tells Fanny, and he calls on her to be generous. Fanny's vanity nearly prevents her from venturing down her home's grand staircase to see Job. When she does finally enter the parlor, Job moves to her, stumbles and falls, and it is apparent that, among the sufferings he has undergone in Germany, Job has been made blind. Fanny, sobbing with compassion, rushes to cradle him in her arms. As she takes his arm and guides him up the staircase, she tells the maid that "Mr. Skeffington has come home." Job had once, long ago, told Fanny that, "A woman is beautiful when she's loved, and only then." George tells Fanny that, at that moment, "she has never been more beautiful". At long last, she realizes the truth of it.

Cast[edit]

  • Bette Davis as Frances Beatrice 'Fanny' Trellis Skeffington
  • Claude Rains as Job Skeffington
  • Walter Abel as George Trellis, Fanny's cousin
  • Richard Waring as Trippy Trellis, Fanny's brother
  • Marjorie Riordan as Fanny Rachel Trellis, Fanny and Job's daughter as an adult
  • Robert Shayne as MacMahon, a local gangster
  • John Alexander as Jim Conderley, one of Fanny's four persistent suitors
  • Jerome Cowan as Edward Morrison, one of Fanny's four persistent suitors
  • Peter Whitney as Chester Forbish, one of Fanny's four persistent suitors
  • Bill Kennedy as Bill Thatcher, one of Fanny's four persistent suitors
  • Johnny Mitchell as Johnny Mitchell, a younger suitor of Fanny's who later marries her daughter. Born Douglas N. Lamy, this actor changed his name to that of his character.
  • George Coulouris as Doctor Byles
  • Dorothy Peterson as Manby, Fanny's housekeeper

Production[edit]

According to the 1989 book Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine, Davis was going through incredible personal torments at this time, which was reflected in her treatment of co-stars on this film, and several others at the time, culminating in a vicious personal attack: apparently, while Davis was away from her dressing room, the eyewash she always used after filming the day's scenes had been poisoned, causing Davis to scream out in pain. Director Vincent Sherman, with whom Davis had once been romantically involved, admitted to the detectives investigating the incident, "If you asked everyone on the set who would have committed such a thing, everyone would raise their hand!" Even Bette Davis herself is quoted as saying, "Only a mother could have loved me at this point in my life."

Awards[edit]

Bette Davis was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, while Claude Rains was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

External links[edit]