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Friday, 15 October 2010

Skin Game (1971)

There are at least two films with this title althought the 1931 movie is "The Skin Game" -- an early, wordy, and atypical film from Alfred Hitchcock based on a Galsworthy play about property speculation. The one under discussion here couldn't be more different, being a jolly and now politically-incorrect farce about slavery. Then again any movie starring James Garner is fated to be something of a romp.

I have always had a soft spot for this unaffected actor both in his film and television roles, all of which he plays with a twinkle in his eye and often with his tongue firmly in his cheek, a la "Maverick" and the two "Support Your Local Sheriff /Gunfighter" flicks. Here he is teamed up in what is actually a 'buddy movie' with Louis Gossett Jr. (billed as Lou Gossett, which makes him sound far less serious). Who would have guessed that the latter has a fun sense of humour, since so many of his later roles have veered towards brash seriousness; he also --let me add -- has a full head of hair! They play a pair of conmen in the years before the Civil War who have developed a profitable 'game' after toying with less successful ones. Although freeborn in New Jersey, Gossett pretends to be Garner's slave, whom he repeatedly and reluctantly must sell to the highest bidder, before busting his friend loose and taking off for the next town. Along the way they attract the attention of Susan Clark's fast-fingered pickpocket and grifter, who becomes Garner's love interest, although usually one step ahead of him. When they mistakenly revisit a town where they have been before and are recognized, Gossett is bought by evil slave-dealer Ed Asner and ends up in the household of Andrew Duggan; here he needs to be taught how to act like a real slave to avoid the ever-threatening lash. Meanwhile Garner and Clark in the role of missionaries search for their friend amongst the plantation owners, claiming that he suffers from a highly contagious disease, for which only they can sell the preventitive serum.

With its heavy use of the N-word and its making light of serious issues, this is not a movie which would receive a green light nowadays, but thank goodness this was less of a concern back in the '70s. It is a thoroughly enjoyable affair, a truly amusing watch, and to hell with political correctness!
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