The Skin Game

The Skin Game


Reviewed by: Martin Gray

This 1931 film sees Alfred Hitchcock filming John Galsworthy's stage play, a pat little morality tale of class and conscience. 'Skin Game' refers, disappointingly, to a swindle and there's one or two in here as the upper class Hillcrists spar with the newly moneyed Hornblowers.

The crux of the matter is part of an estate Hornblower (Edmund Gwen) has bought from Hillcrist (CV France) on the understanding he won't industrialise it. Hornblower tells Hillcrist he plans to renege on his word and the aristocrats are appalled - the paupers will be thrown out of their cottages and - worse - chimneys wills wreck the view. Handily, shocking information about Hornblower's daughter-in-law drops into Hillcrist's hands and a spot of blackmail ensues. Innocents are harmed, the aristos score a sort of win and they wind up with a taste in their mouth far nastier than the odd scent of smog.

Copy picture

The acting is uniformly fine, but likely too mannered for all but the most forgiving of modern audiences; and there's little evidence such excellent actors as Edmund Gwenn (by the 'eck, 'e's bluff in this one) and Jill Esmond realised they weren't on stage.

When the Big Point of a film turns out to be 'What's gentility worth if it can't stand fire?', don't expect a thrill ride. The story is far from exciting and the staging is dull - had the old Master of Suspense been fully formed, he might have made something of the raw material. As is, if you didn't know this was Hitchcock you'd be hard-pressed to guess, with little of his classic cinematic vocabulary in evidence. There is a scene in which floating superimposed heads anticipate Vertigo, (he said, straining to link the younger and older Hitchcock), giving us an insight into a character's emotional landscape.

The most impressive segment focuses on the auction of land (really) as camera pans instil a sense of gentle rhythm, to be succeeded by cross-cutting as things hot up (ie will a man blow his nose? I'm not kidding). Otherwise, The Skin Game could have been filmed by an old studio hand, and the real suspense is whether you'll stay awake to the end. Constant straining to hear the dialogue may help you stay this side of Nod, as the quality is often terrible - appalling, for what should be a prestigious release.

The whole thing is intelligently done, with odd subtle touches, but otherwise this is a curiosity, one for scholars rather than people in need of entertainment.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2007
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The Skin Game packshot
Morality tale of class and conscience sees aristos battle new money over land. Out to own as part of Hitchcock: The Early Collection.
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Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writer: Alfred Hitchcock (scenario by Alma Reville) based on the play by John Galsworthy

Starring: CV France, Edmund Gwenn, Helen Haye, Jill Esmond

Year: 1931

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: UK


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