A rich family, the Hillcrests, is fighting against the speculator, Hornblower, who sends away poor farmers to build factories on their lands. When Mrs. Hillcrest finds out that Chloe Hornblower was a prostitute, she uses this secret to blackmail the speculator and force him to stop his business. Written by
Claudio Sandrini <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"No matter how you begin, it all ends in this skin game"
The early 30s were a time of experimentation for Hitchcock, with theme as much as with technique. After discovering that the crime thriller was his forte with Blackmail and Murder!, his at the time zigzagging career lead him to attempt a talkie drama adapted from a fairly mediocre stage play concerning a feud between the families of an aristocrat and an entrepreneur.
In attempting a straight ahead drama without any major thriller elements, Hitchcock nevertheless employs all the techniques he had been perfecting in his earlier crime pictures dynamic editing, a focus on the psychology of guilt and fear, as well as some of the sound techniques of his previous talkies. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. He tries to inject some tension into an auction scene with whip pans and quick editing, which is a fairly good display of technique but we don't really care enough about the outcome of the bidding to get really drawn in at this point.
For some of the more talky scenes, Hitchcock tries to move beyond the story's theatrical roots by focusing on reactions and having dialogue take place off screen. This helps to give weight to the second half of the film. In particular, Hitch's dwelling on the face of Chloe, the innocent victim of the feud, makes the audience feel sympathy for her character, which in turn makes the climactic scenes work and prevents them from slipping into ridiculous melodrama (which the stage version may well have done). For some of the more subdued scenes, Hitchcock preserves an unbroken take but still takes the focus on and off different characters by smoothly dollying in and out. This same method would be used by Laurence Olivier when he began directing Shakespeare adaptations in the 1940s. However, too many of the dialogue scenes in The Skin Game are simply a lot of panning as the camera tries to keep up with extravagant theatrical performances.
This is a fairly good go at theatrical drama for Hitchcock, but it was made at a time when he was coming to realise not only his strength in the suspense thriller, but his weakness in (and utter distaste for) every other genre. He was probably beginning to look at this kind of project as a rather dull waste of time, and definitely at odds to his sensibility. As an example, this is one of the very few Hitchcock pictures to take advantage of natural beauty, and yet he makes this aspect a victim of his playful irony, by taking his most beautiful countryside shot, then pulling out to reveal it is merely a tiny picture on a sale poster, surrounded by Hornblower and his cronies laughing over the deal they have just made.
The Skin Game is rarely gripping, but at times it is powerful, and in any case it has a short enough running time to prevent it from getting boring. Hitchcock however was looking now to have more fun with crime and suspense, and this sense of the dramatic (not to mention a sense of genuine sympathy for the victim) would not return until his later Hollywood pictures, and even then only occasionally.
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