The Skin Game

Mr. Hornblower (Edmund Gwenn) has just purchased a rented house from Mr. Hillcrist, under the circumstance that the former does not evict the long-standing tenants of the house, the Jacksons (Herbert Ross and Dora Gregory). However, as soon as Hornblower has bought the place the Jacksons find themselves homeless, which starts a familial war, or ‘skin game’ between the two families.


A member of a travelling theatre company has been murdered in the lounge of the guesthouse in which she is staying, with only a fellow company-member, a discarded poker and an absence of brandy nearby. The trial is quickly over, with the jury swung by the overwhelming evidence pointing towards the defendant’s guilt, but after the verdict has been cast and death has been sentenced, one of the jury members begins to have doubts over their decision.

12 Angry Men is one of my favourite films, and Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors, so when I discovered this film, I was half expecting to find Hitchcock’s version of 12 Angry Men would rapidly be topping my favourite films list. Alas, this is not the film I’d hoped for, as in fact the jury and trial scenes take up a very small portion of this film, with most of the focus instead going to the investigation held by Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall), one of the jury members who also has strong connections to the theatre business, in which both the deceased and defendant were employed. Once I was past my initial disappointment, I settled down to watch what turned out to be a fairly standard, by-the-numbers procedural picture, whose only difference from the norm was the general lack of police, detectives or journalists doing the crime-solving.

Before the trial the film has quite a comedic tone, which is odd, seeing as it’s immediately after a murder. The very opening involves two of the theatre company’s members, Mr. and Mrs. Markham (Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam) attempting to uncover the source of the recent scream from down the road, only to be prevented from doing so by a window refusing to remain open whilst their heads are protruding from it. A policeman trying to ascertain the events of the evening finds his work cut out for him when he attempts to question the theatre company during a performance, so must fit his interrogations between the sound effects and actors heading on and off stage. Once the trial begins the comedy is still around, but it’s much sparser and broader, for example the dim-witted juror.

The main problem with this film is the story, which although having been based on the play Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson, seems to have been written hurriedly and not thought through all that well. It may be due to the large number of whodunnits that I’ve seen, but I’d sussed the plot fairly early on after a piece of evidence the cast seemed fairly unimportant, but clearly left the whole thing wrapped up. Also, the whole thing seems to rely upon the fact that sticking one’s fingers into one’s ears and shutting one’s eyes can prevent a person from sensing absolutely anything that happens directly around them. Sir John’s method of achieving a confession from his assumed culprit is also frankly ridiculous, but does at least comply with his being a theatre producer.

The poor audio of the film didn’t increase my enjoyment of the film either, and the various scenes of characters talking over one another didn’t help either. The most egregious case of this was a fairly superfluous scene of Sir John receiving a cup of tea in bed from his landlady. Their entire conversation could have been vitally integral to the plot, however I didn’t catch a word of it due to her detestable brood of children harassing John and running around screaming. I get enough of that just listening to my neighbours two kids through the wall, thank you very much. The overzealous, unfitting score didn’t help either. What finished everything off was the final shot, which was only recently defeated for audacity and sense of ego by Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds.

Hitchcock may well have a fascination with murder and intrigue, but he also likes to focus on the aftermath of the deed, rather than the actual offence itself, as he also does in Rope and The Trouble With Harry. Unfortunately it didn’t pay off here as much of it did in those other pictures, so I’m afraid I can’t really recommend this film.

Choose life 5/10