Sunday, March 4, 2007

MR. SKEFFINGTON (Warner Bros. 1944) Warner Home Video

Vincent Sherman’s Mr. Skeffington (1944) is a tragic snapshot of Bostonian beauty, Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis), and how she allows vanity to dominate and destroy the one aspect that might have given her true happiness in life – her marriage to Jobe Skeffington (Claude Rains).

The Trellis’ are ‘old money’ – that is, they were until their two children, Fanny and Trippy (Richard Waring) ran through the entire family fortune. Largely living on credit, the Trellis’ are warned by their cousin George (Walter Abel) that no good can come of their wanton spending. Indeed, his concerns are justified when Trippy is caught by his employer, Jobe for stealing. To compensate for the theft, Fanny agrees to marry Jobe.

He truly loves his wife, but she is unconvinced that to be faithful to just one man is more noble than to simply be the belle of the ball. Fanny’s many suitors concur with her assessment and continue to court her even after her marriage to Jobe. Eventually, Jobe and age catch up to Fanny and she is forced to reconsider her destiny in life.

Sherman, a master director of this sort of soppy ‘woman’s picture’ is working from fine material, impeccably crafted by scenarists Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. The script gives free reign to Davis’ formidable gifts as a tragic actress. Initially concerned that she was, indeed, not a raven beauty as the real Fanny Skeffington was, Davis is nevertheless quite winsome and engaging during the first two thirds of the picture. But her excessive make-up applications - used to age the actress for the last third of the story - seem to blunt her prowess and performance slightly. Interestingly enough, after the film’s premiere, Jack Warner pruned its running time to minimize the subtle anti-Semitic innuendo.

Warner Home Video has restored those excised scenes in their newly minted DVD – derived from the restored laserdisc, released in 1994. Image quality is quite acceptable, though at times the refined B&W image appears to suffer from an overly sharp characteristic that is a tad harsh on the eyes.

Varying quality – depending on the source elements available – make for an inconsistently rendered image overall, with certain portions containing a host of age related artifacts and slight edge enhancement, while other scenes are virtually free of both anomalies. The audio is mono but presented at an adequate listening level. Sherman provides a fascinating audio commentary. The film’s theatrical trailer is the only other extra.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



No comments: