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
The ship Mr Skeffington and his daughter take to Europe appears to be the Unityed States Lines' SS Leviathan. See more »
The image of the battleship turning over in the newsreel scene is that of the Viribus Unitus, which sunk during the closing days of World War One, rather than before America's entry into the war, as discussed in the newsreel 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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This truly lavish melodrama really knocked me out. I simply did not find any significant weaknesses to this film, at least none of which others have alluded. Films of this type can easily become maudlin, insignificant, and flat. However, "Mr. Skeffington" is the result of a set of elements that are incorporated vibrantly. The film simply has a grand sweep to it, lifting it high above many others of this genre.
The staging and sets (in conjunction with Ory-Kelly's costumes) are as good as any movie that I've seen, along the lines of "Gone With the Wind", "Citizen Kane", "Gigi", or "Long Day's Journey into Night". The use of silence and spaciousness, along with noise and density, is brilliantly carried out and is extremely well-balanced by the characters' non-verbal responses to each other. It's hard to describe without providing details of given scenes - I would suggest that you watch it with this perspective and see what you think.
Speaking of scenes, length is the common enemy of films of this type, but not here - each scene plays out like a shining entity that still provides momentum and underpinning for the entire story. I counted at least 12 very memorable scenes. Humor is added strategically to most scenes to balance the starkness of the story and is nicely understated to avoid a sense of camp. Director Vincent Sherman has polished each scene like a diamond, and the effect is very powerful. The scenes really do stand on their own almost like a set of montages.
Bette Davis' performance is decidedly affected as she plays Fanny as a young girl, but the pure talent and visual power of this actress makes one believe that she is truly the beauty that she is supposed to be. Notice how her movements and responsiveness reinforce the sense of someone almost 15 years younger than herself. While others have complained about the makeup of the older Fanny in portraying her change in age, I found that the makeup perfectly embodied the older Fanny because Davis plays the character so consistently to her advanced age. I would place this performance in Bette Davis' top tier, along with "Now, Voyager", "The Little Foxes", and "All About Eve".
Claude Rains plays the title character with restraint, integrity, and great love for Fanny, but the sense of pathos that he communicates really helps to give the movie a lot of power. The other acting performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Walter Abel as Cousin George. Without the strength of Abel's characterization, this would have been a far weaker movie.
Franz Waxman's score has been criticized by some as being extravagant and overly dramatic to the point of being startling. I really enjoyed it - Waxman incorporates a lush late romantic style that has a stronger "classical-music" feel than other scores for movies of this type, which tend to emphasize strings as accompaniment. The result is a feeling of complexity which shades the story along with the other elements.
This is easily Vincent Sherman's best work, one of Ernest Haller's best, and one of the best melodramas that I have seen. 10 out of 10.
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