THE SKIN GAME
(directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1931)
***+ (out of 5)
> This early Hitchcock effort proclaims in the titles: “A Talking Film!” and for such an early talkie, it’s pretty good. The great master-to-be had clearly not found his full voice yet, or had yet to figure out how to shoot scenes of actors talking, which were merely recorded by a stationary camera set up in front of them to record their scene. But in an early establishing sequence, Hitchcock shows that he had a good idea how film differs from theatre, and took advantage of the medium to give us a stylish, well-edited montage to kickstart the film.
. The plot is universal and well developed, but the sound and image quality is often so poor it becomes hard to follow. It’s the story of a feud between neighbors: conservative old money who want to keep things just as they have been for generations in conflict with the upstart new money, who muscle their way in to make a profit through exploitation in the name of “progress”. THE SKIN GAME is a sophisticated Hatfields versus the McCoys story- the Capulets and the Montagues all over again, as the would-be young lovers find their path to bliss blocked by the war between their families. Some land comes up for auction, and the struggle between them comes down to who gets in the final bid. When things do not go their way, one side considers using some very ugly leverage to get their way. Things escalate, predictably, with predictably tragic results.
. Edmund Gwenn, the character actor so iconic as Santa Claus in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET plays a very different character here: a proud, angry, vindictive, self-righteous, entitled, resentful, bully, who uses his hurt feelings as an excuse to steamroll his adversaries. And, as in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, LASSIE COME HOME, LIFE WITH FATHER, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, LES MISERABLES, THEM! and especially THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, he is very, very good. By contrast, there is one performance here, from the “woman with a past” that is so over-the-top hammy, it seems stuck in the silent era films like this supplanted.
. THE SKIN GAME is a good film. Too bad the only print they could find to strike to DVD was so breathtakingly crappy. The consolation: at least this good film is still available to movie-loving viewers.
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