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The MacGuffin: News and Comment (28/Apr/2012)

(c) Ken Mogg (2012)

Apr 28

We talked about the auction-scene in Hitchcock's The Skin Game last time. Another thing to note about that scene is how it is structured rather like a miniature version of some future Hitchcock plots in which two sides contend and then there is an unexpected resolution (in this case, a last minute bid by another party) followed by a startling twist which shows that all along we had been in the dark (e.g., because in this case the last-minute bid turns out to have been made on behalf of one of the original parties!). Compare, say, Rebecca, in which we soon think we understand why Maxim marries 'I' and then later learn that all wasn't as we thought - and then further learn that there was a cover-up which brings a fresh inquest and a surprise twist. Even then, the full truth may not be known (e.g., just how honest is Maxim's version of events?). Such an 'open' outcome has other Hitchcock occurrences. As Deborah Thomas notes in an article on Stage Fright (in the current 'Hitchcock Annual'), the character Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) makes a rather rambling 'confession' to the policeman Mellish who takes it down in his notebook - but then we hear her tell him, 'It's not all in there.' And Thomas points out how, likewise, at the end of Marnie, we hear Mrs Edgar say to Mark Rutland, 'You don't know the whole story and nobody does but me'. Hitchcock of course loved to repeat himself, with variations, in all kinds of ways. After the auction in The Skin Game, the Hillcrist family hurry out to their waiting chaffeur-driven car, content that their antagonist Hornblower has failed to buy the land he wanted. But Hornblower pursues them and, before the car can drive away, pokes his head in the door and proceeds to tell Hillcrist not just that the winning bid was his, Hornblower's, but that he pities Hillcrist for his inability to compete in the modern world (and some other home-truths besides!). (See frame-capture below.) It's a very effective scene and so Hitchcock repeated it, rather exactly, in Rebecca where, after revelations at the inquest, when Maxim and 'I' are sitting in their car, Jack Favell (George Sanders) pursues them and - putting his head in the car window - proceeds to tell Maxim that he suspects 'foul play' (and implies that Maxim is in big trouble!). The caddish Favell thus seems likened in Hitchcock's mind to Hornblower - whom we do indeed hear called a cad at one point! Note, too, the class antagonism in both cases: the aristocrat Hillcrist versus the nouveau riche industrialist Hornblower, and the aristocrat Maxim versus the car salesman (and ex-lover of Rebecca) Favell. Again, I mentioned last time how Hornblower's daughter-in-law, the unfortunate Chloe, is one of several women in Hitchcock whose past indiscretions catch up with them. The scene where a distraught Chloe talks to the camera at length is very moving. She says: 'My father went bankrupt. I had to make my living in all sorts of ways. And then I met Charlie. He thought I was respectable. It was such a relief.' Her speech is like a trial-run for the extended 'soliloquy' by Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman) in Under Capricorn. Chloe even has the line, 'I've done him [Charlie] such a wrong', which is a pre-echo of Lady Henrietta's, 'I've done him many wrongs'. (In both cases the woman is referring to 'wrongs' done to her husband - interesting, because in other Hitchcock films, such as Young and Innocent and Dial M for Murder, and arguably Rebecca, it's the husband who is the villain of the piece.) I like The Skin Game very much, despite, for example, its over-use of pan shots (not so much in the auction scene as elsewhere), plus what sometimes seems carelessness in various departments. Incidentally, how many dogs does the Hillcrist family have?! I mentioned last time Jill's black terrier. In other scenes we see the Hillcrists with a black-and-white terrier and with an Alsatian. Maybe Hitchcock, a dog-lover himself, was trying to give extra sympathy to the Hillcrists!

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This material is copyright of Ken Mogg and the Hitchcock Scholars/'MacGuffin' website (home page) and is archived with the permission of the copyright holder.