Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Skin Game

Title: The Skin Game
Year: 1931
Studio: British International Pictures Ltd.
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock & Alma Reville
Source Material: A play by John Glasworthy
Running Time: 79 minutes
A black & white picture

Saturday 28th August, 930am/Sunday 29th August, 3:30pm
Another lazy weekend but despite the lack of things to do, I was unable to settle down to doing one thing at a time - hence the split viewing of this film. I began with great intentions on Saturday morning, but within half an hour (and after a great scene) I just had to postpone the rest of the film until later as I was itching to do something else - I ended up doing laundry.
Sunday afternoon, I threw myself back into the job.
I may be a slob, having not even dressed today, but I'm a content slob. Now that I am not detailing every single minute of each film, I am able to munch down ona jam sandwich whilst watching. Hoorah for afternoon teatime.

The cast
Mr Hillcrist - C.V. France
Mrs Hillcrist - Helen Haye
Jill - Jill Esmond
Mr Hornblower - Edmund Gwenn
Charles - John Longden
Chloe - Phyllis Konstam
Rolf - Frank Lawton
Mr Jackman - Herbert Ross
Mrs Jackman - Dora Gregory
Dawker - Edward Chapman
First Stranger - R.E. Jeffrey
Second Stranger - George Bancroft
Auctioneer - Ronald Frankau

The Hillcrists were once owners of a lot of land and Mr Hillcrist is still considered 'Squire'. However, Mr Hornblower is a forward-thinking industrialist and he has bought a lot of the land to build on. However, it was understood that there were provisos and one of those was that the current tenants would not be evicted. Sadly, Mr Hornblower does not stick to these rules and attempts to evict the poor Jacksons who have lived there for over thirty years.
At an auction for property, there is a fierce battle between Hillcrist and Hornblower, albeit via their agents. Hillcrist does not win, but is pleased that Hornblower did not win - however, he is soon proved wrong when he learns that the winning bid was, indeed, from Hornblower's bidding agent.
Hornblower is a hardworking bully but news comes to the Hillcrists about something with which they can retaliate and gain a winning hand. They discover that Hornblower's daughter-in-law used to act as co-respondent in divorce cases. Chloe is distraught that her secret has come out and she does not want her husband finding out, especially now that she is pregnant with their first child.
Hornblower is aghast at the disgrace this news will bring him. He promises to sell the property back to the Hillcrists for a fraction of the price he paid as long as they swear on a Holy Bible never to breathe a word of it to anyone.
This is done, but Charlie, Chloe's husband is not impressed when he does find out and Chloe throws herself in a pond to save everyone from the shame her past has brought upon them. The two families are shocked and the remorse kicks in a reflective mood wherein the Hillcrists see what their narrow vision has brought and Mr Hornblower is reduced to his base emotions.

Great Lines
Mr Hornblower: "I'll answer to God for my actions, not you, young lady!"
Jill: "Poor God!"

and I genuinely laughed out loud when, at the denouement of the film, the poor Jacksons enter the home of the Hillcrists, all excited that they get their home back and Mr Hillcrist says;

"I'd forgotten their existence!"

Ah, peasants... so forgettable, despite their humdrum ways...

This film suffers as it hasn't had a very decent restoration - it seems a bit rough around the edges and although some scenes are clear, others have not fared well against the barrage of time.
There's a whole heap of class-wars going on with a lot of snubbing and intolerance, which is fascinating for the time and its parallels in today's society.

The auction scene is actually rather fast-paced and exciting as we cut back and forth between the various bids. The atmosphere is most electric.
Some other nice touches include a scene toward the end where Chloe is aware that her husband is due to arrive at the Hillcrist's home and she keeps glancing towards the door and Hitch gives a slight zoom emphasising the fearful anticipation she feels.
Also, the beautifully framed shot of the scene where the small crowd lift Chloe's body from the pond with the ominous house behind shedding its light through the open doorway is rather picturesque, albeit morbid. According to Hitchcock, there were ten takes of this shot - poor Chloe!
Prior to this, Jill's attempt to expose Chloe's hiding place is so dramatic, it reminds us of the story's theatrical origins.
The whole play is performed rather melodramatically and it is apparent that Hitch is not altogether thrilled as he films it.
It seems that with melodrama, the rule of thumb is to never look anyone in the eye, just look off to the distance instead. Matthew Fox did that a lot in Lost.

In modern times, it seems a little bizarre to have such a weight of burden upon a family if someone has such a sleight secret in their past, but we have to understand the contemporary nature of the story.
It is rather horrifying that the poor girl attempts to kill herself and her unborn child rather than live with the guilt of her past, but with a simple line, there is a seed of doubt as to her fate when Hillcrist states; "...what may be death..." so anyone who prefers a happy ending can believe poor Chloe just fainted and got her dress wet. Frankly, though - she's popped her clogs.

My Verdict
OK, despite a couple of nice moments and the splendid auction scene, this is all a bit dull.

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