…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
Without a doubt, Bette Davis certainly soaks up the screen and chews the scenery as the self-absorbed central character of the tragic and oddly-named Mr. Skeffington (1944), earning her 7th nomination. A particularly strong year for actresses, it is little wonder Davis lost for this role opposite the powerhouse beauty Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight; though a win for Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity would have been most appropriate.
Davis portrays possibly one of the vainest and most egocentric characters you may ever see onscreen – Fanny Trellis, who becomes Fanny Trellis Skeffington when she coquettishly snares and weds successful Jewish businessman, Job Skeffington (Claude Rains). A marriage of convenience, Fanny has married Job to save her younger brother, Trippy’s reputation. Trippy, employed by Skeffington, has embezzled a large sum of money from his employer. In time, as events in her life grow worse rather than better, Fanny grows more and more distant from her husband and more dependent and available to her countless fawning suitors. Indeed, though he is the title character, Rains disappears as the film progresses and only returns near the end of the movie. Overall, it may be predicted early on in this overly long and way too lushly Franz Waxman-orchestrated piece that Fanny’s extreme vanity comes at a severe price, as she destroys everyone around her and eventually herself.
No stranger to playing extremely selfish, unsympathetic and self-absorbed characters, Davis definitely plays it to the hilt within this period piece. The end result, though, is very tiresome and forced. Her voice a shade too high and her mannerisms jittery, it is easy to see – as history tells it – how crew members and fellow cast-mates may have reached the end of their rope with Diva Davis during the filming of Mr. Skeffington. Even Davis herself admitted she was a handful during this time. The only intriguing parts of Mr. Skeffington are the lavish period costumes by Orry-Kelly and Claude Rains’ subtle performance as the title character (for which he was nominated for Supporting Actor). All else – including Davis’s performance – just seems to play like a gaudy soap opera that goes on for way too long at almost 2 and a half hours.