Mr Skeffington (1944)
Once again it’s been a while since I saw a Bette Davis film, needing to break that by watching Mr Skeffington (1944) which gave Davis her 8th Best Actress nomination, which saw her again not being afraid to act with heaps of make-up on her face, that transformed her into Fanny Trellis Skeffington a New York socialite who thrives off male attention that’s generated by her natural beauty, a beauty that consumes her life, making her a shallow woman who doesn’t really look beyond her front door.
With the arrival of her brother Trippy Trellis’s (Richard Waring) boss Job Skeffington (Claude Rains) who comes with bad financial news. It’s bad timing really as the Trellis brother and sister have been hiding the fact they have been broke to all, and with ease. His bad news puts the airy-fairy woman into action, to do something, just as the stock-markets crash at the beginning of the great depression. This is just one of a number of events that are covered in this film that goes from the depression to the build-up to WWII, and Fanny lives blissfully unaware as the world changes around her.
It’s not long until Fanny and Job are soon married, a very unlikely looking couple, and all the love is going in one direction, from Job to Fanny who continues to see her potential suitors and admirers. For Job he waits patiently in admiration and a growing love for the most desired woman in New York. The suitors come and go as he remains constant, something she is not fully aware of for most of the film.
It’s with the arrival of a baby on the way that Job is cut out of the 9months that transform Fanny into a pregnant woman of solitude, moving away into hiding, not wanting everyone to see her pregnant. She will have the baby but not show off that fact she is to those who lover her, as if she is ashamed of what her body does to her image. Her image is her most important aspect of her life. The arrival of the child comes just before the outbreak of war for America, having already seen her brother go off to fight, having no other reason to be at home, feeling humiliated by his sister marrying a rich man who solved all their problems. A fact that is hard for Job to swallow, yet carries on through his daughter and being a captain in the U.S. army.
Its a melancholic film that for me draws comparisons between Fanny and Scarlett O’Hara who als lived in her own world, yet she longed for one man. Both are however unaware of the love that their husbands have for them whilst they exists for others. For Fanny its the attention of men that are drawn to her good looks. Whilst O’Hara longs for another man. They both wake up to their different realities they receive massive shocks that force them to grow up and face their problems. For Fanny a bout of diptheria that causes her body to catch up with her in middle age, she ages far faster than nature would have intended. This is her wake-up call to understand what is important in life. So many things that she has seen pass her by. Her husbands love which was lost to a string of flings to keep him alive in a loveless marriage. The lost connection and life that her daughter Fanny Jr. (Marjorie Riordan) who under her eyes takes her last suitor. A connection made via youth, attraction, something she her mother missed out on.
A touching film that shows us what is important in life, that beauty fades, whilst love still remains, as Job told his wife, “A woman’s beautiful only when she is loved.” an inner beauty that doesn’t rely on nature of the science of make-up to create something that can fade over time. A powerful illusion that can consume an individual. Today this is just a prevalent with all the anti-wrinkle/ageing creams that are sold with the illusion that they can turn back or prevent the effects of ageing. It’s a sad situation that needs films like this classic that does go to the extremes with the help of Davis’s imersive performance that makes it so relevant today. The power of illusion is great, love is far stronger if you just let it happen.
- Angela Lansbury Talks Bucks County Playhouse, Bette Davis & Beyond (broadwayworld.com)
- For Fifty Grand, Scarlett O’Hara’s Breakfast Gown Can Be All Yours (jezebel.com)
- Gone With The Wind (thebookstoryblog.wordpress.com)
- My love affair with Scarlett O’Hara (telegraph.co.uk)
- Vivien Leigh, lavishly illustrated in a new biography (latimes.com)