Popular and beautiful Fanny Trellis is forced into a loveless marriage with an older man, Jewish banker Job Skeffington, in order to save her beloved brother Trippy from an embezzlement charge and predictable complications result.
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It's 1914 in New York City. Adult brother and sister Trippy Trellis and Fanny Trellis, whose parents are now deceased, were once wealthy, but Trippy squandered away the family fortune, about which no one knows except their cousin George Trellis and their many creditors. Fanny and Trippy still put on the façade to the outside world that they have money. The beautiful Fanny can have any man that she wants to marry, but she sets her sights on Job Skeffington, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Job's wealth was self-made in finance. They met as Trippy was once employed by Job in his brokerage house. Fanny and Job, who is now aware of the Trellis' financial straits, ultimately do get married, much to the consternation of Fanny's many suitors, but most specifically to Trippy, who knows the reason why Fanny married him. Job also realizes that Fanny does not love him, but is unaware of the real reason she agreed to marry him. After their marriage, Fanny's suitors are still around with more... Written by
As a measure of the progression of time, a newspaper headline flashes President Warren G. Harding's Washington Disarmament Conference of 1921-22, and stock footage shows the U.S. Capitol Dome with 1940s-era taxicabs pouring up Pennsylvania Avenue. See more »
Good evening, Soames!
Good evening, Mr. Conderley.
Afraid I'm a little early, aren't I?
Miss Trellis wasn't expecting anyone till 8 o'clock.
Well, I thought I'd come a little ahead of time; have a little chat with Miss Fanny.
Sorry, sir; she's still dressing.
All right, I'll wait.
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Unrealistic at times, but a rewarding melodrama nonetheless
I have discovered as I have gotten older and have watched hundreds of classic film that for those of us who mock the people who watch soap operas or read romance novels, we have the classic melodrama to fall back on. More meaty but nevertheless still over the top, melodramas feed a craving for escapism without having to resort to bodice-ripper books or films or worse, the Lifetime Movie Network. "Mr. Skeffington", directed by Vincent Sherman and starring the incomparable Bette Davis and the always-charming Claude Rains, is one of those good, solid melodramas.
With a setting that begins during the inception of World War I and ends after World War II, "Mr. Skeffington" introduces us first to Fanny Trellis (Davis), the most sought-after debutante in New York who has so many suitors that she routinely has at least four men wooing her and proposing at a time. On the night of a big party she and her brother Trippy are hosting, a man named Job Skeffington (Rains) comes to the door asking to speak with Trippy. Trippy is an employee at Skeffington's bank, and after he refuses to see him, Fanny and her cousin George (Abel) arrange to talk to him. It turns out that Trippy has been swindling Skeffington, who is planning on talking to the District Attorney regarding the matter. George and Fanny convince him to wait, and Fanny, ever confident, avers that she will be receiving flowers from him the very next day. When no flowers arrive, curious, she goes to visit Skeffington at the office, and over the next several months a romance develops. When they suddenly marry, she breaks the hearts of her suitors as well as Trippy, who sees Skeffington as a constant reminder of what a mess he has made of his life, so he enlists in the army and goes off to the war in Europe. Over the next couple of decades, through various scenarios, we see the intense love that Skeffington has for Fanny, and the complete ambivalence she has for him, particularly when she gives birth to their only child, a daughter also named Fanny. The couple lives together but live their separate lives and have their flings until Fanny decides to sue Skeffington for divorce on grounds of adultery. He decides to take his daughter and travel to Europe where WWII has not yet begun, and in the meantime, Fanny is jet setting and dating men half her age because she has managed to keep her beauty. When the war begins and her now grown daughter comes home because of the persecution of Jews, Fanny's world begins to crumble. She develops diphtheria and while she comes out of it, the disease has wreaked havoc on her appearance and she now doesn't look 20 years younger than her real age, but more like 10 years older, a fact that shocks everyone who knows her. When she decides to try to gain her confidence back by hosting a party and inviting her former suitors, she is saddened when she realizes that they are all recoiling in horror when they see her, and has to endure the cattiness of their wives. The final blow to her ego comes when her daughter announces that she is marrying the young man that Fanny was seeing before she became ill, and is moving across the country. Fanny, realizing that she is alone, becomes despondent, until George shows up at her house, telling her that Skeffington is back from Europe and waiting for her. It is only then that she realizes that she does have a purpose in life, and that she always did love him, it just took a swift kick in the bustle to realize it.
"Mr. Skeffington" clocks in at two and a half hours, and the summary is only part of the entire storyline. There is a lot of plot to digest in that period of time, but Davis and Rains are the perfect choices for their roles. The film was made in 1944, when Davis was in her mid-30's, but she still looked stunning, as opposed to the makeup job they did on her for the later years (they made 50 years old look like 75) which was an eerie premonition of her role 20 years later in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" I always chuckle when someone is deemed to be "the most beautiful woman" or "the most wanted woman" because in reality you're kind of wondering what you're not seeing there, but with melodrama you do have to give a little leeway. Okay, in this case, a lot leeway. Claude Rains, one of my very favorite actors of all time, gave another fantastic performance as the cuckolded and heartbroken Skeffington. He always gives an element of reality with a touch of elegance that makes him very endearing. As stated earlier, the film is a bit long, but there were not a lot of pacing issues because the film carried itself from segment to segment relatively seamlessly.
Another in a long list of wonderful melodramas, "Mr. Skeffington" is a very good classic film that I fear has been forgotten throughout the years. Its performances and adequately compelling story are enough to recommend it to classic film lovers, particularly those who are fans of Bette Davis or Claude Rains. Since I fit into all three of those categories, I give the film a firm 7/10.
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