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Skin Game (1971)

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.

Directors:

Paul Bogart, Gordon Douglas (co-director) (uncredited)

Writers:

Peter Stone (screenplay) (as Pierre Marton), Richard Alan Simmons (story)

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2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
James Garner ... Quincy
Louis Gossett Jr. ... Jason (as Lou Gossett)
Susan Clark ... Ginger
Brenda Sykes ... Naomi
Edward Asner ... Plunkett
Andrew Duggan ... Calloway
Henry Jones ... Sam
Neva Patterson ... Mrs. Claggart
Parley Baer ... Mr. Claggart
George Tyne ... Bonner
Royal Dano ... John Brown
J. Pat O'Malley ... William
Joel Fluellen Joel Fluellen ... Abram
Napoleon Whiting ... Ned
Juanita Moore ... Viney
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Storyline

Quincy Drew and his black friend Jason O'Rourke have pulled off every dodge known for conning a well-heeled sucker, but it wasn't until they hit on the old skin game that they started to clean up. The game is simple. Jason, though born a free man in New Jersey, poses as Quincy's slave as the pair ride through Missouri and Kansas in 1857. Quincy picks a likely mark in each town, sells Jason to him for top money and rides out of town. Then Quincy and Jason get back together on the road to another town, because if Jason can't just run off after dark, Quincy finds a way to spring him loose. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Would you buy a used slave from this man ? See more »


Certificate:

GP | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

1 February 1972 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

El rey de los picaros See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cherokee Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Warner Bros. Pictures' 1500th release. See more »

Goofs

Susan Clark's character explains to Quincy that there is to be a vote whether Kansas will join the Union as a slave state like Missouri or a free state like Nebraska. Nebraska wasn't admitted to the Union until 1867, 6 years after Kansas. See more »

Connections

Version of Sidekicks (1974) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Feels more like the inspiration for "Django Unchained" than "Django"
26 September 2016 | by dnauertzSee all my reviews

Remember how Clint Eastwood's character in "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" had that wonderful scam of turning Eli Wallach in for the reward money, saving him from the hangman's noose and then taking him to the next town to repeat the process all over again, piling up the cash in the process? James Garner and Louis Gossett Jr. essentially have the same graft going in this film, except that they're in the South in 1854 and Gossett is black, not wanted, so Garner poses as a plantation owner while Gossett poses as the devoted slave that he must part with due to falling on hard times. Garner sells Gossett, Gossett escapes, and then they move on to the next town/state to do it all over again.

I found this to be an inspired premise, and "Skin Game" does quite a bit with it. Somehow the movie manages to acknowledge and explore the drama within this situation while still mining it for every possible ounce of comedy. It doesn't quite hit the delirious "let's mock the stupidity of racism" heights that Mel Brooks did in "Blazing Saddles" but that's an unfair comparison. For one thing, "Skin Game" takes itself, and its subject, far more seriously. It's fun to watch these con men take money from unsuspecting racist assholes, to be sure, but the movie never forgets that this institution actually existed, that it ruined countless lives, and that its impacts on society were far-reaching and terrible. "Skin Game" isn't as bitingly satirical as it could be, but it does have some bite to it, and the horrors of racism ensure that this film, which would otherwise be a fairly light affair, has some real suspense going for it.

More than "Blazing Saddles", the movie of which "Skin Game" most reminded me was "Django Unchained". It boasts the same setting, of course, and both movies feature people pretending to be who they are not within this setting. Like "Django", "Skin Game" also features a black man and a white man who have a genuine friendship and a fun camaraderie with one another. Being the film geek that he is, I am almost certain that Tarantino has seen this film and the two movies share a similar vibe and feel at times, although Quentin spins his story into a different and more violent beast. I don't know if either movie is more "important" than the other. Quentin uses this setting for a bloody, highly quotable revenge narrative, while "Skin Game" uses it for a novel variation on the "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" dynamic. It starts as a breezy, light con man story with a controversial spin but then deepens into a critique of the institution of slavery that still allows for a good deal of humor and excitement. Director Paul Bogart doesn't provide much in the way of haunting visuals and the whole story could have been told in a more effective manner at times, but he maintains an energetic pace throughout and highlights the chemistry between his leads. Garner, as always, is incredibly charming. Gossett, in contrast, gives his character just the right amount of outrage and anger while still having fun with the whole situation...until the situation changes and fun is no longer possible. Gossett's is the more interesting of the two characters, as he should be, and has more dramatic angles with which to wrestle. After all, he is profiting from a system that enslaves and kills people of his own race. The movie is smart enough to acknowledge and explore this fact at every turn and give Gossett an interesting, three-dimensional character through which to consider all of this.

If anything, "Skin Game" is probably a little too breezy considering its subject matter. With Garner at the lead, its bland visual style and its Western feel, it often feels like a "Very Special Episode" of "Maverick". I appreciate the fact that the movie doesn't moralize too strenuously and that it doesn't go too far into Oscar bait/"Racism is Bad" territory, but maybe a movie taking place within the world of slaves and plantations should be a bit more serious about those subjects. Or maybe not, not necessarily. I mean, the movie shows us at least one whipping and the pens that potential slaves are being held in, and it does show us a couple of slave auctions so it's not like "Skin Game" is going out of its way to avoid the realities of slavery...though it does present such things in a very Hollywood manner. It would be nice if the movie was a bit more brutal about such things. But, still, "Skin Game" manages to show the ugliness of this horrible institution without sacrificing the entertainment value of its fun con man story, and I found that admirable. The movie doesn't really know how to end, and I would have liked if its female lead was a little more interesting. Susan Clark is okay as the con woman who falls for Garner, steals all of his money, and then helps him when he really needs it, but it would have been nice if she'd had a few more dimensions to work with. Brenda Sykes, on the other hand, does a great job with Naomi, the slave girl for whom Gossett's character falls. Her characters is complicated and interesting. Not only that, but Sykes is beautiful whereas Clark is a bit odd looking (not that she can help that, obviously). But despite its problems, "Skin Game" is still something of a fascinating film that has been unfairly forgotten over the years. Had it not popped up during a James Garner day on Turner Classic Movies, I probably never would have heard of it. Luckily I did hear of it, and saw it, and recommend that others seek it out as well. It's not perfect, but it's definitely worth seeing.


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