Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Best Supporting Actor 1944: Claude Rains in Mr. Skeffington

Claude Rains received his third Oscar nomination for portraying the titular Job Skeffington in Mr. Skeffington.

Mr. Skeffington details the loveless marriage between the vain Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis) and a wealthy Jewish stockbroker Mr. Skeffington.

Claude Rains received three of his four nominations for portraying antagonists of some sort. This is the only time he was nominated for a character who actually might be described as good. It is also the only time out of all his nominations that he could be argued as the leading man of the film. I do not mind his placement in the supporting category since he just about completely disappears for about the second half of the film, he is very much the leading man of the film for the first half. Although this is a very different performance for Rains in regards to his four nominated performances it is one of two of his nominations where he portrays a man married to a woman he loves whom does not love him back.

Rains is in a rather odd spot in this film as he acts opposite Bette Davis who plays Fanny who only marries Mr. Skeffington so she can support her embezzler brother. The reason he is in an odd spot is how over the top and outrageous Davis' performance is in this film. She doesn't have a subtle moment throughout her whole performance which is filled with some of the oddest gestures and Davis almost seeming to do an overdone imitation of herself. Although it would probably be easy to succumb to the temptation to try to outdo or match Davis' performance in terms of extravagant behavior like Richard Waring does as Fanny's brother Trippy Rains actually gives an understated and very much restrained performance to counter Davis' theatrics.

Although Rains certainly is most famous for his villain parts he also does know how to portray a descent man as well, as shown as Mr. Skeffington who is such a nice man that even when he faces an embezzler he still treats them with far more courtesy than they deserve. Rains manages to turn Job into a descent man effectively as he is just a gentleman in the best sense of the word. He is kind courteous and has a low key sort of charm that shows that Skeffington is an entirely descent and respectable man. Rains is the perfect sort of gentleman in the role never trying to stress this fact he merely is. Rains interestingly enough shows here, unlike his other three nominated performances, there really is not anything under the surface of Skeffington he is exactly who he says and claims to be.

The main aspect of Rains' work though comes down to the central relationship in the film between Job and Fanny. There is actually an interesting dynamic between the character's and the two actors as Rains is as subtle as Davis is over the top. I won't say it is a great dynamic though as Davis went too far frankly, an actor can over the top but they have to absolutely sure of their performance and Davis never is. Rains therefore absolutely holds every scene in his possession as he comes off as much more believable because of his far more natural performance. Rains is actually quite moving as Job as he marries Fanny in the belief that he can eventually earn her love. Rains makes it clear that Job is not stupid he shows that he absolutely see Fanny as the gold digger she is, but he also shows that there is a desperation in Job to try to change Fanny.

Much of the early half of the film is dealing with Fanny's many suitors and Job trying to get her to genuinely love him. Rains is convincing in his quite way he shows Job's methods to try to bring out the love he desires out of Fanny. He is gentle in his performance showing that Job only wishes to tell her that he is good for her, and that he does love her, and only wants the same love in return. Rains is actually quite moving as he faces the utter amorality of his wife as he finally faces her down over her cruelty toward him. Although really he could have overacted Rains instead still stays quiet as Job intensely questions Fanny's behavior toward him. The film does not give him enough time and gives him an excessively melodramatic conclusion scene but Rains does manage to realize some of the heartbreak his character faces over his troubled relationship with his wife. This is a good performance by Rains that even manages to haunt the film even after he disappears for a great deal of time by his earlier presence. I wish Davis' performance matched his more thoroughly and the writing of the film was less over the top at times, but as it is Rains still gives a moving portrait of a tragic character. 


Cole said...

You say exactly what I think of his performance, he gives the best performance in the movie.

RatedRStar said...

=) I would have had a heart attack if Rains finished last =D, I kinda wished Rains had done more romantic roles as opposed to mainly playing suave villains, might have given him more chances to be nominated.

RatedRStar said...

I also thought he was great in Now Voyager and The Passionate Friends which I found him both lovely and charming in.