DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
MR. SKEFFINGTON (director: Vincent Sherman; screenwriters: Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein/from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Bette Davis (Fanny Trellis Skeffington), Claude Rains (Job Skeffington), Walter Abel (George Trellis), George Coulouris (Doctor Byles), Richard Waring (Trippy Trellis), Marjorie Riordan (Fanny Junior), Robert Shayne (MacMahon), Charles Drake  (Johnny Mitchell), Jerome Cowan (Ed Morrison); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein; Warner Bros.; 1944)

 
"A squishy tearjerker melodrama that questions how to handle life when beauty fades, for someone who vainly lived for her beauty."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A squishy tearjerker melodrama that questions how to handle life when beauty fades, for someone who vainly lived for her beauty. Director Vincent Sherman ("The Garment Jungle"/"Old Acquaintance"/"The Return of Doctor X") keeps it on track as a "woman's picture." It's based on the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, and is written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein.

Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis) is the coquettish headstrong debutante, extravagantly living off the wealth of her late father in 1914 in New York City. Her helpful rational cousin George Trellis (Walter Abel) returns home after several years traveling and is surprised that Fanny and her brother Trippy (Richard Waring) are almost broke. Trippy has been forced to take a job on Wall Street for the Jewish stockbroker Job Skeffington (Claude Rains), who has just fired Trippy and comes to their home to ask him to repay the money he embezzled or he will prosecute. When Trippy refuses to speak to the boss, George and Fanny tell him how bad off they are financially and Job delays his decision. The despondent Trippy threatens to commit suicide. Thereby Fanny figures the only way out of this jam is to romance Job, and even though she doesn't love him still marries him. The unhappy Trippy bolts for Europe to fight in World War I., and leaves Fanny alone locked into a loveless marriage. Since hubby is named Job, he shows patience with her. After a year of marriage wifey gives birth to Fanny Junior in Los Angeles. When Trippy is killed in battle, Fanny blames that on her husband.

We follow the couple for some thirty years. After the war Job is a loving father to his daughter, while the self-absorbed Fanny takes many lovers. During Prohibition, Fanny goes out with a bootlegger named MacMahon (Robert Shayne), who wants to marry her and makes up stories that her hubby has mistresses so she would divorce him. He even says he'd kill Job. The saddened Job agrees to a divorce and gets custody of the child after giving Fanny a healthy slice of his fortune as settlement, and then flees to Europe. There he faces the threat of the Fascists, while his daughter (Marjorie Riordan) returns to the States to live with her selfish mommy.

After Fanny suffers from diphtheria, she rapidly ages and at age fifty none of her former suitors will look at her and she's left alone. Meanwhile Job returns to the States after escaping from the concentration camp and is downcast and broke. Fanny agrees to take care of Job when she discovers he's blind and stays with him only because she feels reassured he'll only remember her for her beauty. With that, Fanny learns the life lesson preached by Job that one is beautiful if loved.

It's a heavy slog through gooey soap opera turf. The lavishly produced pic fell behind schedule (finishing up two months later than its target date) because Davis got into daily arguments with Sherman, even though he was one of her favorite directors and former lover. To keep the lady quiet, the married Sherman resumed the affair after Davis's hubby died while the film was being shot. Despite it being an unpleasant filming experience, the pic was one of the top grossers of the year and both Davis and Rains received Oscar nominations for their acting.

REVIEWED ON 10/15/2010       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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