Skin Game (1971)

James Garner, Louis Gossett Jr., Susan Clark, Brenda Sykes,
In 1857, con man Quincy Drew and his black friend Jason O'Rourke swindle slave owners into buying Jason, who's a free man, and later share the profits when Jason escapes captivity.
  • 7.0 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Peter Stone, Richard Alan Simmons, Writer:
  • Paul Bogart, Gordon Douglas, Director:
  • Harry Keller, Producer:
4 / 10

This didn't age well!

Back in the 60s and 70s, James Garner made a niche for himself playing in comedic westerns, such as starring in "Maverick" on television as well as appearing in films such as "Support Your Local Sheriff" and "Support Your Local Gunfighter". Well, in the case of "Skin Game", Garner perhaps went to the well one time too many...though back in 1971 the film wasn't seen in quite the same way it would be seen today.

The plot to this film is insane...though apparently not so insane that the network didn't this out as an idea for a weekly series. So, only a few years later, they remade "Skin Game" as a retooled TV movie with Larry Hagman in the Garner role and Lou Gossett reprising his role.

So what is the plot? Well in "Skin Game", Garner travels to various slave states in pre-Civil War America. There, he sells his friend (Gossett) and somehow Gossett would find a way to escape (they were very vague on HOW he did this repeatedly) and the pair would move on to some place else and repeat this again and again. Today, this would be considered pretty tasteless by many, but for me the problem was more of a historical nature. As a retired history teacher, such a plot is patently absurd.

Now if you completely turn off your brain and don't think about the implausibility of the plot, you can enjoy the movie on a basic level. Garner and Gossett are enjoyable together. But for me, it just wasn't worth it and the film is definitely weak and a mistake in hindsight.

8 / 10

A New Type of Con Game

James Garner ever since he made his first big hit in the television series of Maverick refined the playing of a con man who's no better than he ought to be into a fine art. Quincy Drew is a further refining of the Bret Maverick character.

James Garner can be serious when he wants to be, but I've always gotten the feeling he enjoys being Maverick or Jim Rockford far better than playing it straight. He has to enjoy it more, he's so darn good at it.

Here he's got a racket going with Lou Gossett, Jr. During the days just before the Civil War in the 1850s he and Gossett work this con where Garner keeps buying and selling Gossett as a slave. Of course Gossett escapes and then they move on to the next town.

Trouble is with that kind of a con, your reputation is bound to catch up with you. Gossett, who was born in New Jersey and is a free black man, gets a view of slavery he didn't bargain for. Along the way he meets Brenda Sykes.

Garner also meets up with Susan Clark who's also a grifter. She aids him in his search for Gossett.

Gossett and Garner don't exactly redeem themselves in the end, but you know this is not a racket they will be trying any more.

7 / 10

Skin Con!

Skin Game is predominantly directed by Paul Bogart and written by Richard Alan Simmons and Peter Stone. It stars James Garner, Louis Gossett Jr., Susan Clark, Brenda Sykes, Edward Asner and Andrew Duggan. Music is by David Shire and cinematography by Fred J. Koenekamp.

Slavery era America and two interracial con-men travel from town to town duping white folk into purchasing black Jason O'Rourke (Gossett Jr,). After Quincy Drew (Garner) strikes a deal, with money in hand, the pair meet up later to scarper and split the profits. A nice con, that is until ladies and savvy outsiders enter the fray...

A lovely Panavision/Technicolor production, Skin Game is a little remembered comedy Oater, not because it's poor, but more than likely because it has been shunted to one side due to what is now perceived as political incorrectness. Which is a shame, for although it doesn't fully exploit the premise it is working with, it's a very likable pic that's propped up by strong lead performances.

As the not so intrepid duo move from town to town, places with great names like Dirty Shame and Bitter End, a number of funny scenes keep things perky, be it bath time, Jason crying or the verbal jousting rumbling on, the comedy is subtle and easy to digest. The introduction of Clark lifts the pic higher, for she's a bigger rogue than Quincy and Jason, adding more cream to an already amusing pudding.

It's all very improbable as such, so we are not surprised when things inevitably go belly up, while the intention to probe the bile of the era in question doesn't make a telling mark. But the pros of the piece far outweigh the cons to give us a film worth tracking down. 7/10

1 / 10

Not Remotely Funny

I can say without a doubt that I wasn't the target audience for this movie. It wasn't the least bit funny. I only watched because Lou Gossett Jr. was in it and what a mistake that was. How or why they would turned slavery into a light matter is beyond me.

Tell me one Black person that would play such a game as being sold and escaping as a con. I can't think of a riskier or dumber con than that. What's the upside and what's the downside? If it works you've gotten a couple hundred dollars. If it doesn't work:

A. You're a slave for life and all that entails (which is too much to list).B. You get caught and killed.

So let's do that equation again. Plus a couple hundred dollars, minus your freedom or your life equals hell no. And it isn't remotely funny.

4 / 10

Could have been a great satire instead of a weak farce

This 1971 film, "Skin Game," is a so-so comedy, Western and romance. The plot is preposterous, but that's OK in comedy. The trouble with this film is that it's not that funny. I'm not distinguishing the scenes of slavery and mistreatment of people. But these aren't handled right for a comedy. The filmmakers could have had a great film had they rewritten the script and made the plot a clear satire. But instead, we have a couple of guys conning various gullible and dumb Southerners.

The cast all are fine for their acting, but again, most of the attempts at humor fall flat. So, sans any real satire, this film comes off merely as a mild farce. Given that, it sends a message that crime is OK, so long as one steals from the gullible. Hmmm. Isn't that the ploy of most scams today? Too many people, especially older, get taken advantage of in this way. I'm sure they have a quite different idea about crime with comedy.

In order to make comedy work with sensitive subjects, it's got to be clear and obvious satire or very strong farce. This version of "Skin Game" doesn't have that. At best, it's a weak comedy of characters. And, so I suppose the film folks would just tell those sensitive to slavery, derisive stereotypes, stealing and other things in here to just not watch the movie. Better still, watch a great true satire or comedy with lines and antics to make one laugh.