Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Skin Game (1931)

  • Class meets crass and both cruelly trample on innocent dreams
  • One of the Master’s best British films, it’s often unfairly overlooked
  • Class system injustice is laid bare in a dirty game where everyone loses
  • Even dirtier are the film’s many terrible bootlegs, killing its reputation
  • Every official, good quality release is listed here for the first time

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Phyllis Konstam in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 1

Judged dread: Phyllis Konstam sees the life she loves slipping away. US Lionsgate DVD.

Phyllis Konstam in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 2

Phyllis Konstam in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 3

Sexploitation, corruption, blackmail – all and more is wrapped up in this high stakes drama of two rival families. This is hellishly powerful stuff, and easily one of the Master’s most under-appreciated films. It’s rife with twisting, turning moral dilemmas in which both parties fight dirty and almost no one emerges as wholly good or bad. There are more than enough ethical complexities and crises of conscience to satisfy even the most demanding fan of Hitch’s later works. It packs a lot of emotion, both subtle, overwrought and all points between, into its lean 80-odd minutes and really is one of my faves of Hitch’s British period. Just as it threatens to bow out on a not wholly-resolved denouement, a brief two-second final shot seems to show us the likely course of events after the final credits.

The assured direction, cinematography and mise en scène are never anything short of brilliant throughout. There are numerous examples of visual touches that Hitch would go on to use again and again in his future works. Skin Game is too often unfairly written off as a perfunctory stop-gap in his temporarily stalled ascendant career, but I wonder how many commentators have actually seen it in good condition, if at all. It’s patently obvious to anyone with eyes that Hitch invested a lot of time, thought and care into making this film every bit as good as he was capable.

Phyllis Konstam in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Facing down her fate

The Skin Game was adapted from the eponymous 1920 play by John Galsworthy, also author of The Forsyte Saga. The young Hitch greatly admired his works which, like this one, frequently turned their focus on the iniquities of the class system. Using the full cast, it was also filmed during its initial stage run and previewed in December 1920. That version was an Anglo-Dutch co-production, whose Dutch title, Hard tegen hard, literally translates as “Hard against hard”. Hitch brought back two of the leads, Helen Haye and Edmund Gwenn, to reprise their roles in his version. The play was also subsequently adapted  for US and UK TV in 1952 and 1974 respectively. The 1920 version sadly appears to be lost, but the original negative and various other early materials relating to Hitch’s take on the tale are safely stored in the BFI Archive.

Frank Lawton, Phyllis Konstam and Edmund Gwenn in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Frank Lawton, Phyllis Konstam and Edmund Gwenn, seeking solace before the bombshell drops.

Circulating official transfers of Hitch’s hand-wringing opus are all of a very decent preserved print, but there’s no doubt the film could really shine with a new digital scan and restoration. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely anytime soon. However, said preserved print is at least due on BD (and DVD) in the US, but until then these are all the official standard definition options available:

Note that of the various SD releases, those from the US have a slight edge in overall detail.

Phyllis Konstam and Edward Chapman in The Skin Game (1931, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Getting down to business: Phyllis Konstam tries to untie the Gordian knot binding her, while Edward Chapman pulls it even tighter.


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For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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