Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Skin Game (1931)

I think I've mentioned before that I picked up a cheap Mill Creek box set of early Alfred Hitchcock. One of the movies that I hadn't blogged about before is The Skin Game, which I first saw an age ago during one of TCM's salutes to Alfred Hitchcock. So I watched it again to refresh my memory and do a post on here.

Based on a play by John Galsworthy, The Skin Game tells the story of two families. The Hillcrists are an aristocratic family, led by a patriarch (C.V. France) who owns a lot of land in this rural area and lets it out to tenant farmers who, like his own family, have been in the same place for generations. One day he sells some of the land to Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn), on the proviso that the tenant farmers get to stay in their cottages and continue to work the land.

Hornblower has no intention of doing that, however. He's a businessman, and interested in progress, having set up pottery factories. He wants those cottages to house his new factory's workers. When Hillcrist finds out he's been duped, he's displeased to no end. Worse is that Hornblower is intending to buy another large plot of land for the factory, and building the factory will really destroy Hillcrist's view from the manor house and the whole way of life in the area.

Fortunately, the land is going to be sold at auction, so Hillcrist is able to come to the auction along with an agent who is going to be doing Hillcrists' bidding secretly. Hornblower, of course, is none too stupid himself, so he does his own bidding while keeping another bidder in reserve. So when this reserve bidder winds up winning the auction, Hillcrist is at first relieved until Hornblower tells him nope, I pulled a fast one on you.

Thankfully, Hillcrist still has one trump card up his sleeve, although it's a rather dirty one. Hornblower's son Charles has married a womn named Chloe (Phyllis Konstam), and some of Hillcrist's agents have discovered that Chloe had a scandalous past, something involving getting paid to be the "other party" in divorce cases. It doesn't seem so scandalous by 2021 standards, but a century ago, among the polite classes, oh my. Hillcrist plans to use this to blackmail Hornblower: sell the land to me at a loss, or I'll reveal your daughter-in-law's secret. Predictably, tragedy ensues.

I said at the beginning that The Skin Game is based on a play, and there's a fair portion of it that's quite stagey, with few of the usual Hitchcock touches. The one place that does show Hitchcock's invention is in the auction scene, which has some mildly interesting panning and editing. But overall, this is a genre that Hitchcock doesn't seem terribly interested in, and the result is a movie that's mildly interesting but nothing great, especially not by the standards of Hitchcock.

The Skin Game is a nice addition to a box set, but don't expect typical Hitchcock.

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