Hitchcock's third "talkie", following Blackmail and Murder, was adapted from a John Galsworthy play, a morality tale of class, conscience and consequence.
The upper class Hillcrists (CV France and Helen Heye, amongst others) spar with the newly moneyed Hornblowers (including Edmund Gwenn), with the main crux of their arguement being that Mr Hornblower has gone back on his word not to evict the tenants of a house which stands on land sold to him by Mr & Mrs Hillcrest. If that doesn't sound a particularly thrilling premise for a film there's probably a good reason...it isn't.
The most exciting sequence in the film is a subsequent land auction, no really, where the Hillcrists and Hornblowers are pitted against each other, bidding to gain control of a vital piece of land. Again if a land auction doesn't sound as if it should be the most exciting part of a flim...well, you get the idea.
Most Hitchcock fans will feel that the film is too focused on dialogue and it displays little of the technical flair that most would associate with the director. It is true that he had little interest in the subject matter and as a result the film seems little more than it is; a play on film.
The acting is stilted in many parts, although Phyllis Konstam gives a delightfully over-the-top performance as Chloe Hornblower, who's secret blows the plot wide open when the Hilcrest's use it to blackmail the Hornblowers to retain ownership of the land that was sold at the auction.
In the final analysis its a decent film, and one that is completely at ease with the, then still new, processes of the "talking picture". What it most certainly isn't however, other than in name only, is an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The lack of interest he had in the project can't help but shine through. Still the fact that it's based on a solid Galsworthy play means that it's not a complete washout.
"The Skin Game" is a highlight of Hitchcock's early career despite it's washed out picture and poor sound quality. What it has to offer the viewer is great acting, strong characterisation ,a powerful storyline and a dramatic ending. "The Skin Game" (roughly meaning "playing dirty") is a tale of bitter, naked class warfare in an English village between the families of an obnoxious, bourgeois manufacturer and an arrogant aristocrat, over the future economic direction and values of the locale. The bourgois wants to be the undisputed "top dog" in the village ,symbolised by his desire to develop beautiful meadowland into an ugly,smoke-stack factory , while the Squire desperately wants to maintain his dwindling power and status within the community by any means necessary. "The Skin Game" portrays a vicious battle between the noblesse oblige of the landed gentry and the ruthless profiteering of the industrial bourgeoisie for the hearts and minds of the peasantry and working class, which raged for many decades in Britain. As the film progresses, the local squire and his family use increasingly low methods to gain the upper hand over their enemy ,that ironically ends up giving the bourgeois the moral high ground. "The Skin Game" is directed expertly by Hitchcock with the tense storyline building up steadily into an unexpected and poignant finale that is chastening for all concerned.