June 6, 2015

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington


Mr. Skeffington is often regarded as one of Bette Davis' worst nominations, a glaring example of just how hard the Academy mistook ubiquity for quality during this frustratingly repetitive decade. And after finishing the film, I'll agree that this is definitely the least deserving of the eight nominations I've watched and reviewed of Davis' thus far. As the horridly vain and selfish Fanny Trellis, Davis comes to Mr. Skeffington with an approach that straddles a fine line between annoying and unbearable, but I'll be damned if I didn't have fun watching her!

It's a funny thing, because Davis's overall approach is quite over-the-top in this film, and she adapts this floaty, high-pitched voice that's initially interesting but begins to wear you down as the film progresses. Fundamentally this is a performance that is outwardly exercised enough to warrant comments of it being bad, but I couldn't help but enjoy watching this quasi-disaster unfold right in front of my eyes. Because in spite of her acting being unnecessarily grating here, I am still impressed by the different angles Davis brings to her characters--Fanny is this terribly selfish individual, who is monstrously obsessed with the way she looks. Think about the modern day equivalents of this prototype. Thus, I think there's a beautiful brilliance in the way that Davis is so goddamn annoying and garish in this film; and I feel like the entire performance itself is an amazing mockery of spoiled socialites everywhere. But with that, this performance is the equivalent to a bull in a china shop; it's loud and messy, and as much as I enjoyed watching the entire thing, it's clearly not her strongest work and I can't vouch for it as being a nomination-worthy performance (some parts of it were just flat out awful). Much like how many people don't care for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia because they perceive Streep's performance to be a bit of a caricature, I would say that that is exactly how I feel with Davis in Skeffington. I'm not so appalled by her work here such that I'm up in arms over its inclusion in the short list, but it's clear that Davis being present again in the Best Actress category this year was due to a lack of willpower on the Academy's part to look at just about anyone else.
But an oddly enthusiastic 2 statues!


  1. "Call Janie Clarkson and tell I can't possibly have lunch with her today."

    Yeah. So, it isn't Regina, Judith, Julie, Charlotte, Margo, Mildred or Jane, but one can get some fun out of it, and stick around for its lengthy two and a half hours. Claude Rains, now the Davis husband for once, is the most sympathetic character in the movie, saving Fanny's worthless brother Trippy, and self-sacrificing enough to marry without love, hoping it will come in time. "I'm married to you, but I haven't won you," Job Skeffington says early on, letting us know he's not a fool, even if he's allowing himself to be used as one for the time being.

    Davis never failed to praise Rains and would heartily agree how helpful he was here. In two years, even she'd admit he stole every scene he got in "Deception" with her. This was no Oscar winner for Davis but for in some universe where every other nominee laid a grand egg. Her lone 1945 film, "The Corn Is Green" didn't draw a nomination, but that's a satisfying Davis film too; less showy than Fanny, but a story of more gravity.

  2. I found this performance absurd and enjoyed it for all of the wrong reasons. If "I can believe she did that" or "I can't believe how bad she was in that scene" are reasons to watch a film, than I had mine. I've watched it since and get a perverse enjoyment out of how simply atrocious she is from start to finish. I can't think of one good moment or positive thing to say. It's one of those "It's-so-bad-I-can't-look-away" moments you have when you witness a train wreck, which this surely is.