The Skin Game (1931) – reviewed by George

Alfred Hitchcock’s 14th film is based on a John Galsworthy work, Adapted and Directed by Hitchcock with a Scenario by Alma Reville.
It’s a story of two families and the conflicts that keep them at loggerheads with each other, but on a deeper level it’s the story of two philosophies – two ways of looking at the world, and it’s is up to the individual audience member to decide who is in the right. Personally I think one outlook is better, but here, the way the people react makes their positions much less sympathetic.
I think it’s unlikely that anyone in this corner of England is really upper-class, but the Hillcrists are as close as you can get. They believe in keeping your word, in duty to others, and so on. The Hornblowers are middle-class, the owners of Hornblower’s Potteries, and are mainly interested in acquisition: more money, more property. They are uninterested in anyone’s opinion of them. When Mr. Hillcrist (C.V. France) sold some land to Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn), he stipulated that the Jackmans (Herbert Ross and Dora Gregory) were to stay in their house on the land, and Mr. Hornblower agreed. Now he wants them 0ff the land to build a bigger pottery. And since the stipulation was not part of the bill of sale, it has no weight in court and Mr. Hornblower is free to do as he pleases.
This is typical of both men: Hillcrist carelessly taking a man’s word as his bond, and Hornblower going for the main chance.
Of course you can say Hillcrist is naive and should have known to get it in writing, and you can say Hornblower carefully kept it out of the legal papers in order to get the Jackmans off his land. It’s all in how you phrase it. But Hillcrist thinks it is unconscionable, largely because the Jackmans are elderly, having lived in that house for 30 years.
And Hornblower points out that his land acquisitions have resulted in the Hillcrist home being almost surrounded by land for the pottery and garaging trucks and storing supplies and inventory, etc, etc. There is one piece of land that stands between Hornblower having completely surrounded the Hillcrist mansion, and he means to have it, and Mr. Hillcrist is equally determined to deny him by buying it himself. Now the skin game (a swindle or trick) starts in earnest.
The two families consist of Mrs. Hillcrist (Helen Haye) and daughter Jill (Jill Esmond), and the two Hornblower sons Charlie (John Longden) and Rolf (Frank Lawton) and Charlie’s wife Chloe (Phyllis Konstam). And there is Dawker (Edward Chapman), who works for Hillcrist, or does he? Things begin to unravel quickly at the land auction, with bids coming from both men and their representatives. And then morality goes right out the door.
This is a good tale and quietly demonstrates the way principles, even Hornblower’s minimal ones, can be eroded over money and pride.

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