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Mr. Skeffington

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Mr. Skeffington, starring Bette Davis, Claude Rains
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Mr. Skeffington (1944), starring Bette Davis, Claude Rains

Product Description of Mr. Skeffington

 Bette Davis stars as a beautiful but vain society woman who, to pay her brother’s gambling debts, marries a financier she does not love — Mr. Skeffington. The marriage does not last, and the former Mrs. Skeffington flits from beau to beau casually leaving a trail of broken hearts. But when she contracts a near-fatal case of diphtheria, her beauty is destroyed by the terrible scars left by the disease. Now middle-aged, scarred and unable to win men’s hearts with her beauty, she finally finds love with the now-blind man she had wed years before–Mr. Skeffington

Review of Mr. Skeffington

In short, Mr. Skeffington is an interesting movie, with excellent acting, that moves at a good pace.  It’s a character study of a young woman, Fanny.  She’s beautiful, she knows it, and uses that beauty to lure men like flies to honey.  But she’s not evil.  If anything, she’s kind-hearted and good-natured.  And self-centered as well.  In many ways, she makes me think of the character of Susan from the Chronicles of Narnia.  She raced to the age where her beauty made her the center of attention, and strove to stay there for the rest of her life.

The title character, Mr. Skeffington, is very well-acted, and in many ways sympathetic.  He marries Fanny, knowing that she doesn’t love him, but hoping that she will over time.  Even after their marriage, people continue to propose to his wife.  And, with the patience of Job, he puts up with it, knowing that Fanny keeps turning them away.

Until World War II drags everyone into the conflict, causing a great personal loss to Fanny.  And leading her to stay away from her loving husband at every opportunity.  She literally drives him into the arms of other women.  Not to excuse the behavior, but it’s understandable, given human nature and emotions.  And Fanny becomes less happy as time goes on.

There is, thankfully, a happy ending for these two broken characters at the end of the movie.  It’s not forced, or artificially tacked on.  A woman isn’t truly beautiful until she’s loved …  An excellent film, highly recommended.  I rate it an A.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Cast of characters in Mr. Skeffington

  • Fanny Trellis Skeffington (Bette DavisAll About Eve).  The vain society queen.  She’s beautiful, kind-hearted, and totally broke.  She loves her brother Trippy very much, and is willing to go to great lengths to protect him.  She’s pursued by multiple wealthy suitors.  But she sets her sights on Mr. Skeffington.
  • Trippy Trellis (Richard WaringYou Are There).  The younger brother, recently employed by Mr. Skeffington, who has embezzled $24,000 from him.  A young rich society man, who expected to live on his inheritance.  But he doesn’t have any, and is trying to keep up pretenses.
  • George Trellis (Walter Abel13 Rue Madeleine).  Fanny’s cousin George – a steadfast friend, and the stabilizing influence on her life.  The kind of friend everyone should have.  A fine acting job.
  • Job Skeffington (Claude RainsHere Comes Mr. JordanCasablanca).  The rich, Jewish banker robbed by Trippy, romanced by Fanny.  And, after war breaks out, he chases her as well.  He anonymously commissions an expensive painting of her, and she finds out.  They’re married afterwards.
  • Fanny, Jr. (Marjorie RiordanPursuit to Algiers).  Job and Fanny’s daughter.  The apple of her father’s eye, but her mother doesn’t have time for her.

Songs in Mr. Skeffington

Editorial review of Mr. Skeffington courtesy of

Fanny Skeffington, an incorrigible society flirt of the WWI era, was one of the meatiest roles and most exasperating women Bette Davis ever played. Flighty Fanny loves the attention of her male suitors, but marries the steadfast Jewish financier Job Skeffington (Claude Rains) for security; long after their wedding day, she still enjoys receiving gentlemen callers. Time catches up with Fanny, of course, and the bills are due by the time World War II rolls around.Mr. Skeffington is a vintage Warner Bros. workout for Davis, who never shied away from playing unsympathetic or physically unappealing roles. (Her main worry here was looking pretty enough in the early reels to justify Fanny’s reputation.) Her theatrical performance and Rains’s impeccable work carry the handsomely dressed story through its many melodramatic shifts.

The dialogue by Julius and Philip Epstein (who were doing Casablanca around this time) has the sprung rhythm of screwball comedy, although director Vincent Sherman and the cast don’t always seem to have noticed this. There’s also the growing issue of anti-Semitism  — a subject rare in Hollywood prior to this–especially as it concerns Fanny and Job’s daughter. But mostly the film has Bette Davis, who strides headfirst into the gray areas (her indifferent treatment of her daughter is especially unappetizing), a fearless attitude that looks like the polar opposite of Fanny Skeffington’s vanity. –Robert Horton

[Updated June 22, 2022]

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