The Hitchcock Haul: The Skin Game (1931)

DownloadedFileLike a lot of these older Hitchcock films, I had never heard of The Skin Game. Based on a play by Nobel Prize winner John Glasworthy, the film highlights tensions between old money and the nouveau riche to demonstrate class warfare and talk about the urbanization of rural areas, something that was a hotbed topic since the Industrial Revolution.

The established Hillcrists and the up-and-coming Hornblowers dive into a family feud over one of the last open stretches of wilderness between their two estates in the English countryside. The Hillcrists find the Hornblowers crass and reprehensible, as they’ve been building ugly factories and residences on surrounding land, even throwing tenants out of their homes that were promised residency when the Hillcrests sold some land to Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn). This began the breach of faith, but when Mr. Hornblower purchased the last bit of unsullied land in what Mr. Hillcrist (C.V. France) calls a ‘skin game,’ the Hillcrists decided to play dirty.

Mr. Hillcrist and Mr. Hornblower arguing.

Mr. Hillcrist and Mr. Hornblower arguing.

Mr. Hornblower has two sons, Charles (John Longden of Young and Innocent ) and Rolf (Frank Lawton), one of which is married with a grandchild on the way. Mrs. Hillcrist (Helen Haye of The 39 Steps) discovers that Chloe Hornblower (Phyllis Konstam), married to Charles, was previously employed to play the part of the “other woman” in various divorce cases to help manipulate the outcome. Armed with this scandalous info, Mrs. Hillcrist facilitates a deal where Mr. Hornblower sells them the land at a fraction of the price he purchased it.

Chloe's tragic end.

Chloe’s tragic end.

Despite everything being resolved, the information gets out. A distraught Chloe goes to see Mr. Hillcrist and begs him not to tell her husband. Hr. Hillcrist takes pity on her, and when an enraged Charles shows up a moment later, he lies to him about what the rumor actually is. This doesn’t calm Charles. He proclaims that he intends to divorce Chloe, even though she’s pregnant. Overcome with grief, Chloe throws herself into the pond and drowns, giving the story a tragic and cautionary end.

The story was great, and Hitchcock achieved a much more exciting adaptation of this play than Juno and the Paycock. It would a great property to revisit today, with industries such as Fracking being so controversial and the income gap growing at an alarming rate. It could be translated to fit a modern setting quite well.

Both families look on as Chloe (off screen) jumps into the pond.

Both families look on as Chloe (off screen) jumps into the pond.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak too much to the production quality, as the transfer I was watching was horrible. The digital remastering was awkward, the dialogue was very difficult to hear, and at times the frame was completely skewed. People’s heads were cut off. There were moments when it seemed like the camera was jerked around in the middle of a shot, as if repositioning ungracefully, but because of the wretched transfer I really don’t know what to attribute that to.

I can’t say it was a directorial masterpiece, but it was certainly entertaining. B-

The Hillcrists

The Hillcrists

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2 thoughts on “The Hitchcock Haul: The Skin Game (1931)

  1. John Cowherd says:

    Hi Joscelyn,

    I share your frustration with the production quality in The Skin Game. The early scenes in Hitchcock are mysterious enough without not being able to hear or see everything that the original audience could.

    I also thought that your comment that this movie translates well to contemporary economic and social controversies. I began to think about it and decided that there was a whole blog post that could be written about this, so I put mine up on my real estate law blog: http://cowherdblog.com/2014/01/13/reel-property-hitchcocks-skin-game/

    What do you think? Thanks for your insights on this too overlooked old movie!

    John Cowherd

  2. John Cowherd says:

    Dear Joscelyn,

    I share your frustration with the production quality in The Skin Game. Hitchcock is mysterious enough in his movies without not being able to hear or see things that his original audience could.

    I also agree that themes in this movie adapt well to those of our time, such as fracking, class warfare, etc. I found myself interested in the interaction between Mr. Dawker and his clients in the movie. I focus on the theme of “what goes around, comes around” in my post today at my real estate law blog: http://cowherdblog.com/2014/01/13/reel-property-hitchcocks-skin-game/

    What do you think?

    John Cowherd

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