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Skin Game, The (1931)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The friendship of Jill, daughter of rural landowners the Mr and Mrs Hillcrist, and Rolf, son of the upcoming new industrialist Hornblower, is placed under pressure by the growing rivalry between the two families.

The Hillcrists are alarmed to learn that Hornblower, who has been bulk buying property in the area, is threatening to evict the Jackmans, tenants in a cottage he has bought from the Hillcrists. Challenging Hornblower, they discover that Hornblower also plans to buy and develop another local property adjoining their estate. The Hillcrists attempt to outbid for the property at auction, but are tricked by Hornblower.

Meanwhile, Mrs Hillcrist and her agent Dawker have discovered that Chloe, Hornblower's daughter-in-law, has a scandalous secret. Determined to stop Hornblower at all costs, the Hillcrists decide to blackmail him into surrendering the deed to the property in return for preserving his family's good name. Later, Chloe is terrified that the revelation will destroy her marriage, and begs Dawker not to tell, but Dawker is unmoved.

Summoned by Mrs Hillcrist's letter, Hornblower arrives with Chloe at the Hillcrist's, where she is finally forced to confess the truth in the allegations against her - that before she married, she used to act as a correspondent in divorce cases: pretending to be the husband's mistress to provide a legal grounds for a divorce to be granted. Realising that this revelation could destroy his reputation and his son's happiness, Hornblower reluctantly agrees to hand over the deed, insisting that both Mrs Hillcrist and Dawker swear not to reveal the secret.

Later Mr Hillcrist and his daughter Jill are disturbed by a distraught Chloe, who pleads with them to help her mollify her husband, Charlie, who now suspects that something is afoot. They agree to try to convince him with an alternative story. Chloe hides when Charlie himself subsequently arrives, demanding to know the truth. He rejects the Hillcrists' story, having already had the truth from Dawker. He angrily denounces Chloe who, listening behind a curtain, flees. Concerned, they begin to search for her.

Hornblower arrives and confronts Mrs Hillcrist and Dawker, accusing them of breaking the agreement and demanding the return of the deed. They scuffle. At the same time, Chloe has been found attempting to drown herself in the garden pond. She is brought into the house by Charlie, with Jill and Mr Hillcrist. As Charlie and his brother Rolf help her to their car, a defeated Hornblower unleashes his fury on Mr Hillcrist, then leaves, followed shortly by a cowed Dawker.

Sitting in silent contemplation, the Hillcrists are visited by the Jackmans, forgotten in the maelstrom of events, who have come to thank the Hillcrists for being allowed to return to their cottage. The Hillcrists are too shocked to respond. With the Jackmans gone, Mr and Mrs Hillcrist are left to confront the terrible consequences of their war with Hornblower, while Jill and Rolf tentatively clasp hands.