3 August 2010 | mikhail080
Early HItchcock Stands Test of Time
I recently saw Hitchcock's "Rich and Strange" and really enjoyed it, so I was game for another go at this early 1930's British cinema, in my attempt to become a "Hitchcock completist." Please keep in mind that I'm an American with a pretty-good ear for British dialog, but there are some speeches contained here that I couldn't understand in the least. But only a fairly small portion that is. The early sound equipment doesn't help either.
The title "The Skin Game" refers to a heated altercation that leaves no holds barred, and no prisoners taken. The plot line is essentially a "Hatfields and McCoys" family feud over land rights, with a lot of dirt being dug up on both families involved. Like pretty much all early sound films, there is a heavy reliance on dialog and the spoken phrase, which makes "The Skin Game" obviously derived from the stage.
At the beginning there's a long take with probably ten pages of dialog in it, using a medium shot of three characters, with the camera panning between them. At least once, someone was speaking dialog while not on camera, which I always find distracting -- a minor flaw I admit, but noticeable. Hitchcock's pacing feels relatively quick considering, and he keeps interest in these scenes with dramatic exits and entrances of characters, and revelations of plot details.
Really some of these takes were so long that actors coughed, dropped things and retrieved them, and other apparent flubs that were never re-shot. Seems like once the director was five minutes into a scene he couldn't afford the film stock to begin again, so there are a lot of miscues and such, which kind of adds to the immediacy. Especially considering that I'm certain that even the young Hitchcock was keenly aware of every missed cue and dropped line, and it had to drive him to distraction! I was certainly impressed by this early Hitchcock effort and I'm sure that audiences back then went away from this one with the feeling that they got their money's worth. It was apparent that an extremely talented film maker was at work here, trying to keep the audience involved every step of the way. And he did succeed actually.
For instance, there is a scene at an auction house that lasts for about ten minutes, and Hitchcock sets it up in such a way to keep the audience anxiously awaiting the outcome. He has the camera making very fast pans from one bidder to the next, slowing down only when the bidding does. The audience has some background information about the proceedings, but not enough to spoil the surprise at the end.
It's early sound cinema -- so most viewers today can't bear this kind of thing, but if you're familiar with and enjoy films of the early 20Th Century, it's extremely enjoyable and does have a payoff at the end! *** out of *****