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|Index||25 reviews in total|
19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
"No matter how you begin, it all ends in this skin game", 16 January 2008
Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
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.
22 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
Not typical Hitchcock, but not bad., 15 March 2004
Technical crudities, print/sound deficiencies and dated acting styles taken into consideration, "Skin Game" still has innovative (for the time) camera techniques and thematic ambiguity (who is right and who is wrong? Who are the true villains of the story?) and is generally better than other, more "typical" Hitchcock films of the period, like "Murder!" from 1930.Edmund Gwenn is terrific and Phyllis Constam is quite sexy. (**1/2)
17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
A Few Hitchcock Touches in An Otherwise Bland Film, 17 May 2001
Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio
"The Skin Game" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's earlier sound pictures, and
although the story held potential, it is a rather bland film despite a
couple of good Hitchcock touches.
The story centers on a rivalry between two neighboring families who have very different views on the future of their community. Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn) wants to see the land developed and used for factories and businesses, while the Hillcrest family wants to see the traditional homes and countryside preserved. The resulting conflicts hold some real potential, and lead to some good moments as the families try to outwit each other in a "skin game", but the movie as a whole is never really very compelling.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why this is not a better film. There are no big names in the cast, but Hitchcock made several fine movies with just this sort of cast. Gwenn is good in his role, and Phyllis Konstam is believable and sympathetic as his daughter-in-law whose troubled past eventually provokes a crisis between the two families.
Perhaps Hitchcock stayed too close to the play on which the film is based (it does have a bit of a stage-bound feel), or perhaps for once he did not have a strong sense of the material's potential.
Hitchcock saved his best for the movie's most important scene, when a crucial parcel of land is auctioned off. The auction scene, and a confrontation afterwards between the main characters, is well-done with some good twists.
There are also some nice ironic touches at the end.
Hitchcock fans should still watch "The Skin Game" at least once, to notice the ways that the director's usual touch can be seen, but this movie may not be of much interest to others.
12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
great suspense build-up, abrupt ending, 28 March 2000
Author: Steve Schonberger from near Seattle, WA, USA
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hitchcock may be the master of suspense, but this movie doesn't show that
mastery fully-developed. The movie starts out strong, and builds to a great
climax, but then wraps up abruptly. The movie shows much of Hitchcock's
skill at building suspense, but doesn't deliver an ending to match the
rising tension. It's too bad, because the build-up is very strong. Pay
attention to the epilogue scene for great use of irony.
About the title: A "skin game" means a swindle, trick, or scam.
The movie starts with Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn) buying property from the proud, proper English landowner Hillcrest (C.V. France), assuring him that the tenant farmers would be allowed to stay. Soon Hornblower evicts them to build factories, because he is a man of progress and industry. Hillcrest is outraged, and sets out to stop Hornblower's efforts to buy up land for more factories.
Hillcrest attempts to slow down Hornblower's land purchases by rigging an auction on some property that's up for sale. But Hornblower figures out the scheme, and outsmarts Hillcrest with his own tricks. Hillcrest escalates the feud by hiring a man to dig up dirt on Hornblower and his family.
To avoid spoilers, read no further ...
The hired investigator manages to dig up a secret about Chloe Hornblower (Phyllis Konstam) that's so horribly scandalous that the characters in the 1931 movie can't even explain it in plain language: She went with men to help them get their divorces. The Hillcrest family blackmails Hornblower with the threat of revealing the secret. Hornblower sells the property he had bought back to Hillcrest, at a loss, to keep the dirty secret quiet, and Hillcrest solemnly promises to say nothing. But the secret, once discovered, can't be kept hidden by mere promises, and it comes out. Chloe is desperately shamed, and kills herself. Hornblower is ruined, his his family name smeared and his wealth greatly diminished. Hillcrest has won the feud, but at the cost of his pride as an honorable landowner. Ironically, when the tenant farmers appear to thank him for being able to return to their rented farm, Hillcrest doesn't even remember Hornblower's original offense.
10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
a much overlooked early Hitchcock work, 31 December 2004
Author: gavinlockey from United Kingdom
I feel many writers and critics, David Sterritt, Donald Spoto to name but two are too dismissive of this movie. With the technological restrictions of the very early talkie, Hitchcock as used his artistry to compose fluidity and cinematic suture to a rather stolid Galsworthy play. Already mentioned are the innovative zip pans, he also has intelligent use of dissolve, symbolism aplenty within montage sequences, sheep v horn (Hillcrest v Hornblower). The juxtaposition in the opening sequence of the car and the horse sets the theme beautifully. Occasionally there is daring reverse shots of the same objects defying the 180 degree rule, especially noticeable as we break into the proscenium arch of theatre.
14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Dragging but not awful, 27 July 2001
Author: lauloi from Northeast AMerica
"The Skin Game" is not exactly classic Hitchcock-- no one could dispute
that. But I still think it does not entirely deserve its bad ratings. There
are a few--not too many, but a few-- interesting scenes and surprises. The
characters are fairly sympathetic and well-drawn.
I think the fault of "The Skin Game" lies not in the fact that it is a stage-bound play-- Hitchcock worked wonders on screen with stage-bound plays, notably "Rope" and "Dial M for Murder". Perhaps it is that the emotions of the characters are not focused upon-- the camera keeps rather too distant. If the tone were more personal in this film, the performers might have a better chance to hold our interest.
If you are looking for entertainment and stimulation that one can normally find in a Hitchcock-- better to look somewhere else.
8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
English country gentry vs, industrial developer (not a mystery), 2 June 2006
Author: netwallah from The New Intangible College
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Few movies retain the structure of the stage play that preceded them more than this one. There are entrances and exits, blocked moves across stage-set great rooms, and only two or three major locations, and a few others thrown in. In some outdoor scenes the painted sets are almost painfully obvious, and the shot of a factory, smoke billowing from the stacks and all, is obviously a model. The story pits two families against each other: Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn) is a successful entrepreneur of a vaguely industrial class and accent, set on expanding his factory in a beautiful plot of land and evicting old tenants as well. The Hillcrists set out to stop him by bidding on the property, but his agent buys the property for him. Mrs. Hillcrist sets out to do battle, and her operatives discover an unpleasant secret about young Charlie Hornblower's wife Chloe (Phyllis Konstam), who in a previous existence had taken money to be photographed with a man for divorce cases. She and the Hillcrist agent Dawker force Hornblower to sign over the property and promise to do no harm, in exchange for silence. Chloe is terribly upset; she's in love with her husband, and pregnant as well, and when he finds out about the secretfrom the unprincipled Dawker, she throws herself into a reflecting pool. As an epilogue Mr. Hillcrist tries to apologize, sincerely, and Mr. Hornblower says he'll do whatever he can to hurt the family and the village. The movie ends with an old tree being chopped down. The acting is mostly tepid and stagy, except for Konstam, who looks anxious and desperate and trappedher voice, however, falls into the "thrilling" category, with nearly as much vibrato as Billy Burke. But the best by far is Gwenn, a little dynamo, cheerfully pugnacious, a self-made man, unscrupulous in public and loyal at home, and determined to bring down old traditions of snobbery. Not a mystery.
11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Not only for completists..., 16 November 2006
....this is good early Hitch! good screenplay,good directing and good
acting!Phyllis Konstam is the stand-out .Her portrayal of Chloé can
still grab today's audience .
-the auction sale,twenty-eight years before "North by Norwest" ,is one of the most suspenseful moments of the Master's English era.And there's a brilliant unexpected twist when we think it's over!
-when Chloe takes refuge in her father-in-law's enemy's house,the things seem to have a life of their own:the door,the window,the curtains..
And in 1931,Hitchcock avoids over-simplification:who is good,in the end?who is evil?The local squire and his lady or the arrogant nouveau riche?Who did you have to save?the old couple or the ill-fated Chloé?
In the Truffaut/Hitchcock book,the master says "I did not choose that subject and there is nothing to say about it."
6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Worth the time, but a "classic" only in terms of its age., 23 July 2002
Author: zBirdman from Raleigh, NC
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Skin Game" is a great example of Hitchcock's trek into the cinematic
master that was to become. His 15th film as a director, the first 10 being
silent films, and the film's soundtrack suffers from the same sort of
distractions that all cinematic innovations seem to generate; early color
films often used overly intense and saturated colors, the first
spread the action out simply because they could, and 3D movies used
deliberate dimensional effects that had no real part of the movie (the
paddle-ball guy in "House of Wax" comes immediately to mind). There are
several sequences where people are shouting, dogs are barking, and car
are blowing - having absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but certainly
it stunned the audience of its day with ACTUAL SOUND! The soundtrack was
very obviously redubbed (and rather poorly in places) probably due to the
camera equipment being so noisy. To make matters worse, the dogs barking
sound suspiciously like people, and there are a lot of sequences of dialog
where the actors deliberately turn their backs to the camera - redubbing
much easier when you don't have to lip-sync. There are also several scenes
that have a noticeable lack of sound effects until the characters begin
speaking (example: Hornblower leaves a house, closes the door, walks to
car and gets in, all in complete silence... something that the audiences
the day would probably never have noticed).
I won't duplicate the descriptions that others have left - the plot is not very complicated, so long as you can follow the dialog through the poor soundtrack and the various British accents. Even the DVD soundtrack is horribly inconsistent, but the film is still worth the time for any Hitchcock fan. This is a film that could benefit greatly from having subtitles - and the DVD does indeed have subtitles - but only in French, Spanish, and Portuguese... no English!
The conflict of old money versus new money and the unstoppable progress of industry eroding away at the established lifestyle of the days of the land-owners figure prominently in the plot. The film "bookends" in a truly bittersweet way with an elderly couple and their cottage, which results in what was easily the most stunning comment of the entire film (far more startling than the "big secret" that the film really revolves around). If you look close enough, there's a really significant story... and it's worth the effort. I'd give it a 6 out of 10 for today, but probably a 7.5 for its day.
ANTI-SPOILER: Don't look for the traditional Hitchcock cameo. He doesn't make an appearance in this film. ;)
10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Mainly for completists, 13 March 2001
Author: Richard Keith Carson from Vashon Island, Washington, USA
On average, this is perhaps the lowest-rated of all Hitchcock's films among professional critics, but while I cannot call it good, in my opinion it is not even in Hitchcock's bottom 10. Like his worst, "Juno and the Paycock" from the previous year, it is essentially a filmed play, but it is somewhat less stage-bound and certainly more interesting, if not very. At least one scene (the auction) is distinctly Hitchcockian in style, and Phyllis Konstam is wonderful.
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