Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington

Bette Davis received her seventh/eighth Best Actress nomination for playing Fanny Trellis in the movie Mr. Skeffington. 1944 is a very interesting year where I'm totally uncertain how the voting might have been. That fourth spot is the one that makes me really think. It was definitely between Greer Garson and Bette Davis. I guess, in the end, that they probably went with Bette as Greer was a very recent Oscar winner (though Bette had two) and Bette's movie was bigger and flashier than Greer's.

That doesn't mean that Mr. Skeffington was better than Mrs. Parking. Not at all. Mr. Skeffington could have been an amazing movie had the filmmakers realised that less is more sometimes. What I mean is that the movie wants to talk about the first half of the 20th century and it somehow becomes very shallow. It doesn't get a real depth and the story becomes boring after a while. Still, the performances are quite good: Claude Rains was excellent in the first half and he would get my Best Supporting Actor vote if it wasn't for Barry Fitzgerald. I really felt sorry for his character. He got all that hate from Fanny's brother. But why did he exactly hate Job? Job was actually very decent with that criminal. I guess the fact that he was called 'Job' had a lot to do with that.

Bette Davis was pretty much the (melo)drama queen. She's considered a real icon and (by many) the first lady of the American cinema. And yes, she was such a huge talent. Nobody could play those teary-eyed or vicious and bitchy characters more naturally than she did. These are the two characters she often played but quite usually, these types were mixed. That's when she got her Oscar nominations and that's what the case is with Mr. Skeffington. Fanny Trellis doesn't fall into both categories. Fanny is a very vain and quite conceited character who also has a hidden (extremely deep inside), sensitive self who quite rarely appears.

This performance of Bette is considered (by many) to be the weakest one of her Oscar nominated roles. I really disagree even though I might just understand the complaints against it. It's true that it's not even close to The Little Foxes and it's a billion miles away from All About Eve (but honestly, it rarely gets better than her in All About Eve). I would say that Fanny Trellis was not the most difficult and showy role of Bette.

First of all, I really felt that Bette Davis added very much depth to this character. Fanny is, above all, extremely vain. She always cares about the outside, how she looks, how her house looks, how her family life looks. Although Fanny enjoys all the money (or fortune) she gets from Job, I don't think that she's as greedy as Regina Giddens from The Little Foxes. Unlike Regina, Fanny doesn't covet constantly, she just feels that she's entitled to a fortune because she's Fanny Trellis, an idol, a noble lady and just Fanny. Bette showed Fanny's worries about her looks, her youth and her beauty and added small hints about what's going to happen in the end. In the end, it's so tragic and Bette's performance makes it even more heart-wrenching.

I think most people miss the great lines from Bette in this movie. It's true that she doesn't get to deliver many sarcastic one-liners but this character is still quite much fun. Although Fanny's not exactly bitchy, she's extremely proud and Bette always underlines this with her performance. It's interesting that Bette chose such a high-pitched voice for Fanny. Just like with Natalie Portman in Black Swan, the annoying voice served the character perfectly and it did not bother me at all.

I would say that Bette's best scene in this movie is the one where she confronts her brother after the wedding (and the weird honeymoon) with Job. There's so much emotion and tension there and I loved how Bette handled that scene. She was quite over-the-top but strangely, it all worked for me. Just like when Fanny learns some sad news. Bette got across Fanny's sorrow extremely well.

I would also have to mention the way Bette (and Fanny :D) plays with the men that are after Fanny. Bette is quite playful in those scenes and I loved that she added very much humor. It was really great to see her feel so easily in front of the camera.

So, to sum up, many might disagree with me but I think that Bette Davis was fantastic in Mr. Skeffington. Her over-the-top acting, her insane and brave choices all worked well with me. Even after I finished watchin the movie, I was under the effect of Bette's great performance. Although it's not her best work, it's worth watching.

As I said, I love doing this year so it's very painful to say that you have to give your final predictions now. :(

Ingrid's profile comes in a couple of hours but you have to wait until tomorrow for The Final Conclusion since I really have a lot to think about. The stronger year, the more difficult ranking.

1 comment:

Louis Morgan said...

Well I will stick with my initial gut reaction prediction. Although first or second could go either way, and other three could go anyway.