24 November 2008

Hitchcock | The Skin Game (1931)

The Skin Game (1931)
written by Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville, based on a play by John Galsworthy

I was looking forward to finding out just what a "skin game" is. Turns out, it's English slang for "dishonest trick," which is not really what I was expecting. The tricks are committed by a pair of families who are fighting for control of some land out in the country. It's sort of an upper-class, English Hatfield and McCoy feud.

This film grew on me. It's another melodrama and starts out with a cliched "evil developer wants to force people out of their homes for profit" story. Fortunately, it transforms into a tale of revenge and tragedy as the two families struggle to come out on top. By the end, any cliches from the beginning of the story are completely flipped around: the evil developer Hornblower is beaten and humiliated and the once chivalrous Hillcrist family is wracked with guilt over how far they went to win.

Mrs. Hillcrist is one of Hitchcock's strong matriarchs and my favorite character from the film. While her husband tries to use reason to convince Hornblower not to ruin their countryside with factories -- first meeting with him and then simply trying to outbid him in a land auction -- Mrs. Hillcrist has already hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Hornblower's family. As becomes clear later in the film, she didn't even wait for her husband's attempts to succeed or fail before employing her own back-up plan. She finds her dirt and immediately uses it to threaten Hornblower when her husband's civilized approaches fail. The scene in which she confronts Hornblower with the dirt and forces him to sign the land over to her husband is almost painful to watch, with the previously supremely confident Hornblower completely deflated by the iron-fisted woman.

My favorite Hitch melodrama so far. (6/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Lionsgate in 2007 as a part of the Alfred Hitchcock: 3-Disc Collector's Edition. There are faint, green, horizontal bands crossing the screen at all times. This is completely unacceptable for a black & white film. I checked the PAL version released by Optimum and it had the same problem. Nice job, StudioCanal.