Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Skin Game

After the effectiveness of 1946’s Hue and Cry, which I wrote about the other day, coming to Hitchcock’s 1931 movie, The Skin Game is a bit of a shock. Firstly it’s hardly vintage Hitchcock, and appears to have been made not only on a shoestring, but in a hurry. In one scene Jill Esmond jumps another character’s line and then has to repeat her own, and not long after she stumbles over another line. There’s little Hitchcock class here, and if it wasn’t for the intense performance from Edmund Gwenn, one of the few actors who doesn’t look as though he’s just come out of the silent movies, the film would hardly be worth watching at all.
Certainly there are Hitchcock touches: the face of the stranger repeatedly looming as it’s superimposed over a shot of a crowd, or the auctioneer’s persistent cough, or Gwenn and Edward Chapman seen struggling with each other in the background through a window as the other characters lift the lifeless Phyllis Konstam out of the pool. Impersonal things like doors take on significance when seen in shots by themselves, and the camera swings wildly throughout the auction scene, as though it was attempting to grasp every tiny move on the bidders’ faces.
It didn’t help that the DVD version I’ve got has been made on the cheap: the sound quality is appalling, and the film itself appears badly edited – in one shot Konstam comes out of a room, and then because of the angle of the next shot, it appears that the maid comes out of the same room – but in fact she doesn’t. Worst of all the ‘filming’ of the film has been done in such a way that in several medium shots the top of the characters’ heads are cut off.
Still, a Hitchcock is always worth watching: he usually comes up with some surprise. Sometimes the surprise is how awful he can be – in his last movie, Family Plot, at a time when he was considered the master, the ride down the hill in a car without brakes is appallingly done. Well, well, even geniuses have their off days.

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