TBT: Mr. Skeffington (1944)


“Popular and beautiful Fanny Trellis is forced into a loveless marriage with an older man, Jewish banker Job Skeffington, to save her beloved brother Trippy from an embezzlement charge, and predictable complications result.” That’s the IMBD and Turner Movie Classics description of Mr. Skeffington (1944) but no, that is not at all what this movie is REALLY about. Don’t be fooled, as I was!

This flick begins in 1914 with the aforementioned ‘loveless marriage’ that Fanny embarks upon to ‘save’ her frankly worthless brother, who has stolen a huge sum of money from his employer, the eponymous Mr. Skeffington. But Trippy is entirely ungrateful and runs off to enlist in World War I within 30 minutes of the movie’s start, quickly getting himself killed, thus negating the supposed purpose of the plot. Fanny (Bette Davis) and Job (Claude Rains) remain unhappily married, having a daughter, Fanny Jr., and stay unhappily married through the 1920s, as if just to torture each other. They finally divorce, and Job takes the young daughter off to Europe so Fanny Sr. can be an obsessively vain cougar and spend-thrift.

Finally, the movie catches up to the then-modern era, when Job and his grown daughter have trouble in a Europe disrupted by World War II. Around the same time, Fanny is struck with diphtheria, which ages her dramatically (accomplished by thick makeup). Fanny Jr. reunites with her mom unhappily, also stealing her young boyfriend.

Turns out Job had been caught by the Nazis and thrown in a concentration camp, where he was crippled and blinded, and at the end of the film, he’s reunited with his erstwhile wife. Her grasping at youth is actually compared to the horrors Job experienced in the Holocaust. The whole movie is shown to be an inditement of female vanity and an elevation of the male gaze with the repetition of the line: “A woman is beautiful only when she’s loved.” Maybe that’s supposed to be uplifting, but I found it grossly misogynistic.

Oh well, at least Orry-Kelly‘s costumes for Bette Davis are enjoyable. Since the film has a distinct progression from the 1910s to the 1940s, the gowns change even though Davis’ face doesn’t until the very end. The ’10s evening gowns are the most historically accurate (Orry-Kelly is alway at his best creating evening wear), and the pale gown Davis wears and is immortalized in Skeffington’s portrait is beautifully embellished with lace, beading, flowers, and feathers. Her ’20s evening wear is reminiscent of the House of Lanvin, which Orry-Kelly would have been familiar with and would be appropriate for this character. Her daytime suits, however, all look rather 1940s regardless of the period they’re supposed to portray. The hats and accessories are the only thing that hint at the attempted era.

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Gorgeous teens evening gown!

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

The resigned-to-wed couple.

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Another fabulous 1910s look, plus the first gown immortalized in the portrait.

Bette Davis, Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Posh 1920s with her gangster boyfriend.

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

A fancy 1930s hat for divorce court.

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Trying to seduce a younger man (who will eventually marry her daughter).

Mr. Skeffington (1944)

And then aged-up in the end.


Have you seen Mr. Skeffington? What do you think of the male gaze in film?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

3 Responses

  1. Donnalee

    Hmm, don’t really know this film–thanks for the writeup. The gangster boyfriend and the one who winds up with the daughter looks like they could be the same person, from those photos; neither looks like poor Mr. S.

  2. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    I watched it halfway through exactly one. I got furious at the plot, threw 2 books at the t.v. and turned off the movie.

  3. Heidi Lea

    I watched the whole thing while cat-sitting. I was really irritated by how unlikable and shallow Fanny was, didn’t like Mr. Skeffington either. She spends her whole life being a showpiece for men, and using them to uphold her fancy lifestyle, and in the end is redeemed by Job’s (blind) love of her, even though she did nothing to deserve it. The idea that her loss of beauty is the same as being in a camp riles me to no end. I didn’t like any of them, and that last line really did it in for me. I was, however, surprised at the concentration camp reference, since the war wasn’t over yet when this movie was made, and they taught us in school that “no one” in the US knew about them until the war was ending.