Your RDA of Irony

Musing at the Movies

Call it a gruesome coincidence (is there any other kind?), but I was thinking of the film critic Judith Crist just before she became the late Judith Crist.  As part of its day-long tribute to Claude Rains, Turner Classic Movies broadcast the melodrama “Mr. Skeffington”.  Rains, in the title role, portrays a wealthy older man married to a demanding young beauty–Bette Davis.  The film defies description because any objective appraisal would make it sound like a joke.  Yet, the two stars are so charismatic that you have to watch.  Whether it is intended or not, Davis and Rains are in a duel.  She devours the scenery; hysterics would be idling speed.  He has the most marvelous subtlety, the most eloquent understatement.  I would guess that the detonating contrasts in this 1944 film must have given J. Robert Oppenheimer some ideas for a science project. 

But I digress–as usual.  Why did the film remind me of Judith Crist?  I remembered her wry reflections on her changing impressions of the film.  Seeing “Mr. Skeffington” when she was 22, Crist was horrified that a vivacious young socialite would be married to such a boring old man.  At a second viewing, several decades later, Crist was horrified that a charming, attractive man would be married to such an annoying young idiot.

I am in complete agreement with Crist’s second impression. 

But I also feel obliged to praise Miss Davis in a performance she gave in 1943.  The film was “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and she played an attractive if demanding woman named Bette Davis.  For once, alas, her demands are unmet.  It seems that she has an even more demanding rival named Uncle Sam–who was taking up all the attractive men.  Who was left to take Miss Davis out to dinner?  As she laments…



  1. Leah says:

    I saw a couple of moments of Skeffington too the other day. It made me think of Wharton’s House of Mirth. What if Lily Bart had in fact ended up with Sim Rosedale? Skeffington gives one a chance to speculate on that.

    Sondheim has said that he thinks “They’re Either Too Old or Too Young” is as close to perfect as a song can get.

  2. Eugene Finerman says:

    Hello Leah,

    Lily Bart with Sim Rosedale? No, according to the early editions of Emily Post, the suicide was preferable.

    Frank Loesser wrote the lyrics to “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old”; he also was quite good at tunes.

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