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The Times (04/May/1931) - New films in London: The Skin Game

(c) The Times (09/Feb/1931)



Mr. John Galsworthy’s play “The Skin Game”, which has been transferred to the screen by Mr. Alfred Hitchcock, is to be seen this week at the Regal Cinema. Although the Jackmans, the old couple who are evicted from their cottage by Hornblower, only appear twice in Mr. Galsworthy’s play, they are far from being the least important people in it — indeed, symbolically, they are the most important. Had Hillcrist’s conservatism had its roots in a feudal love for the people of his land and not in a selfish and sentimental desire to keep things unchanged, in other words, at their most convenient for him, then one could have watched the crushing of the Hornblowers, and even the personal tragedy of Chloe, Homblower’s daughter-in-law, if not with equanimity, at least with some comforting reflection on end justifying means, but in the struggle the Jackmans are forgotten, and Hillcrist has sufficient sensibility to see that his victory only represents the triumph of one type of selfishness over another.

In making a film out of “The Skin Game” British International Pictures, Limited, set themselves a most difficult task, for the plot is too closely knit and the action too localized to make the best cinematographic material. Mr. Hitchcock, however, has used his imagination in translating the play into the terms of the screen. The text is, on the whole, faithfully followed, but he often manages to make explicit and illuminating what Mr. Galsworthy in print has only briefly implied. One “shot,” for instance, towards the end tragically underlines Chloe’s isolation — indeed, all through Mr. Hitchcock has, by legitimate technical tricks, emphasized Chloe’s fear that her past will be revealed to her husband, that past which turns out to be a winning card in the game against the Homblowers. There is a strong cast, including Mr. Edmund Gwenn, Miss Phyllis Konstam, Mr. C. V. France, and Miss Helen Haye, but, for all that, the acting is not altogether satisfactory. Hornblower is, it is true, a pushing, uneducated, and self-assertive individual, but Mr. Gwenn, by overplaying him from the beginning, turns him into something like a caricature. Only two of the cast, Miss Haye as the ruthlessly coldblooded Mrs. Hillcrist and Mr. Edward Chapman as the Hincrists’ unscrupulous but devoted agent, Dawker, resist following Mr. Gwenn’s example and so, until almost the end, all of the characters seem out of focus, their every movement and gesture being, as it were, a little larger than life. In the closing scenes Mr. Gwenn acts very finely indeed, and Mr. France, who, as Hillcrist, spends most of the film looking impressive about nothing in particular, has at last something to be impressive about, and is.