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Skin Game, The (1931)


Main image of Skin Game, The (1931)
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyBritish International Pictures
AdaptationAlfred Hitchcock
ScenarioAlma Reville
From the play byJohn Galsworthy
CinematographyJack Cox

Cast: Helen Haye (Mrs Hillcrist); Jill Esmond (Jill Hillcrist); Edmund Gwenn (Hornblower); John Longden (Charles Hornblower); Ronald Frankau (auctioneer)

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The rivalry between a gentrified family and a wealthy tradesman turns to tragedy when the former use their discovery of the dark past of the tradesman's daughter-in-law to thwart his building plans.

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Made for British International Pictures, The Skin Game (1931) was adapted by Hitchcock himself, with a scenario by Alma Reville, from the successful stage play by John Galsworthy. A melodrama of rural class conflict, the film has been dismissed by some as too theatrical, and the work of a Hitchcock disengaged from his subject matter. Certainly, by this stage in his career, Hitchcock was becoming frustrated at the number of stage adaptations he had to take on.

The Skin Game has been criticised for an over-reliance on dialogue and performance and a lack of Hitchcock's usual visual flair. Others however have praised the film for its powerful and convincing portrayal of industrial encroachment on the rural gentry, noting also the confident mix of long-take dialogue scenes and montage.

According to biographer Donald Spoto, Hitchcock was thoroughly bored by the project, but entertained himself with one particular shot. In the climactic scene, Chloe, played by Phyllis Konstam (who had previously starred in Murder! (1930)), attempts to drown herself in a garden pond. Hitchcock, with characteristic cruelty, made the actress shoot the scene - and be thrown into the water by his stage hands - a full ten times. In the end, the shot didn't even make it into the completed film.

Hitchcock cast two actors from the preceding stage and screen versions: Edmund Gwenn as the industrialist Hornblower, and Helen Haye as Mrs Hillcrist. Hitchcock made further use of Gwenn in Waltzes from Vienna (1934), and in two Hollywood films, Foreign Correspondent (1940) and The Trouble with Harry (1956), while Haye appears in The 39 Steps (1935).

Mark Duguid

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Excerpt (4:18)
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Cox, Jack (1890-1960)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Lawton, Frank (1904-1969)
Reville, Alma (1899-1982)
English Hitchcock