Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Skin Game (1931)


Beefing on Hitchcock
The Skin Game

I think it's fair to say that 1931's The Skin Game is easily the worst film on the list to date. This is mostly due to the technological constraints at the time, as sound was still relatively new to film. Pretty much all of the dialog was spoken way too fast for comprehension, and the volume spiked at the start of every sentence only to trail off suddenly into nearly inaudible levels. While most of Hitchcock's early sound films didn't suffer from this issue, it seems pretty common for the time. Production companies had quickly moved from silent to sound, and a lot of the actors apparently had yet to learn enunciation for movies.

The camera work is another problem with the movie, and the term "steady cam" hardly applies at all. There were more than a few noticeable panning shots where the camera moved quickly past the intended target, only having to backtrack to properly center. The auction scene makes a person almost nauseous from all the whipping up and down and back and forth, and none of it slowly or smoothly. I am not entirely sure how much panning and camera movement was used in film before this, but it came across like the cinematographer had just learned a new trick and was over-utilizing it any chance he got.

The story was a tad interesting, but not enough to stand up against the crap quality of the film-making. It was a somewhat standard class war tale, with a twist that the poor family came off as more of an antagonist than the wealthy. In the end, nobody really came out on top, and the suicide of a pregnant woman with a spoiled reputation easily makes this one of the more depressing movies Hitchcock ever made.

On a different note, actor Edmund Gwenn not only fantastically reprises his role as Mr Hornblower from the 1921 film of the same story, but he also appears in a couple of Hitchcock's later films: 1940's Foreign Correspondent and 1955's The Trouble With Harry.

From what I recall from his interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock wasn't all too fond of The Skin Game either, and I'd have a hard time recommending it to anyone who wasn't intent on seeing absolutely every film he made.