Skin Game


1h 42m 1971
Skin Game

Brief Synopsis

Two western con artists team with a lady card shark to take on slavers.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Western
Comedy
Crime
Drama
Historical
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 30 Sep 1971; Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 Oct 1971
Production Company
Cherokee Productions; Warner Bros., Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1857 Missouri, Quincy Drew and Jason O'Rourke operate a successful confidence game in which Quincy, who is white, repeatedly sells Jason, who is black, as a slave. Although Jason was born a free man in New Jersey, he assumes a Southern slave's demeanor to make their ruses believable, then later escapes and meets Quincy outside town to split their profits. Despite their success, Jason is tiring of the game, and after he and Quincy encounter the ruthless slave hunter Plunkett leading a group of chained black men and women, Jason insists that they stop. Quincy, who is also unnerved by Plunkett, reluctantly agrees, but only after they try one more job across the state line in the Kansas Territory. At the first Kansas town, they find themselves in the throes of the hotly contested referendum over Kansas' admission to the Union as a slave or Free State. Because Jason is not allowed to sleep inside the town hotel, he grudgingly goes to the town livery, where a pretty young black woman named Naomi is amused to see him chaining himself to a post. Jason is attracted to Naomi and saddened when she reveals that she is being sold because her young master, with whom she played as a child, was ordered to sell her by his new wife. Meanwhile, as Quincy takes a bath, a woman who earlier picked his pocket tries to steal the rest of his belongings. She pretends not to know him, but finally relents and introduces herself as Ginger, a fellow con artist and kindred spirit. The next day, Jason asks Quincy to bid up to $1,000 to buy Naomi, which he does, telling Ginger Naomi is Jason's birthday present. Just before Jason is sold, notorious abolitionist John Brown gallops into town with a band of supporters, quickly gathers all the slaves into wagons, then rides out of town. In the chaos, Ginger disappears, after which Quincy follows the wagon tracks. While stopped by a stream, Quincy is accosted from behind by an Indian, who turns out to be Jason, spewing sounds he thought sounded like Indian words. The two men start to bicker about their situation and decide to split their money but find that Ginger has taken their money and replaced it with a derisive note. Not wanting to stay in Kansas, Quincy convinces Jason to back go to Missouri for one last chance to recoup their losses. As they try the game in the town of Bitter End, they again see Plunkett, who recognizes them and bids on Jason. Although Quincy tries to avoid selling Jason to Plunkett, Bonner, the man who had bought Jason in Dirty Shame, suddenly arrives to say that he is Jason's rightful owner. A brawl erupts, resulting in Jason's being sold to Plunkett by Bonner and Quincy being put in jail. Some time later, Jason finds himself chained in the livery next to Naomi, while Quincy is visited in jail by Ginger, who pretends to be his abandoned pregnant wife. Clutching Quincy to her, Ginger slips the jailer's keys into his pocket, along with some money and a small gun. After Quincy escapes and meets Ginger, she reveals that she read about their capture in the newspaper and decided to help. Quincy then relates all of the various confidence games that he and Jason have run over the years, and says that he will find Jason, no matter how long it takes. He and Ginger then agree to be partners. Two months later, Plunkett has taken Jason and Naomi to Texas, where they are sold to Calloway, a wealthy plantation owner. Because Calloway seems kind, Jason tells him that he was born a free man and appeals to his fairness. To his shock, Calloway tells him never to speak like that again and orders him whipped. Meanwhile, Ginger and Quincy search for Jason by assuming guises as a medical team or missionaries searching for a slave carrying a mysterious and highly contagious "spasmodic lung pest infestation." As the months pass, under the tutelage of Naomi, Viney and Uncle Abram, Jason becomes attuned to life as a slave. One day, when Jason is sent to the retrieve something in the smokehouse, he is frightened by several African tribesmen. Fearful that they are cannibals, Jason runs away, but is later told that they are the Songhais. Although the importation of slaves has been illegal for decades, the Songhais have been brought to America because they are unusually good with horses. Jason soon befriends the Songhais and tries to talk them into escaping with him to Mexico, which is less than one hundred and fifty miles away. They do not understand him, but when Jason starts to talk gibberish that sounds as if it could be African, they respond by bowing, as if he were their chief. Soon, Quincy and Ginger arrive at the Calloway plantation posing as missionaries looking for the disease-carrying slave. Quincy, overjoyed finally to find Jason, insists on isolating him, while at the same time receiving $500 from Calloway for a serum that purportedly will save his family from a terrible death. When Quincy and Jason are alone, they embrace and laugh, but instead of leaving immediately, Jason insists that they take along all of the other Calloway slaves. Although irritated over Jason's ultimatum, Quincy agrees, and that night makes a plan with Ginger whereby she will leave first and arrange for fresh horses on the trail. The next day, after Ginger has left, Plunkett rides onto the plantation and tells Calloway the truth about Ginger and Quincy. Calloway and Plunkett then go after Jason and Quincy, who are saved by the Songhais, who respond to Jason's commands. After a scuffle, Plunkett is about to shoot Quincy when Jason shoots and kills him instead. Now Jason, Naomi, the Songhais and slaves Viney, Ned and Uncle Abram, climb into the family carriage and race away alongside Quincy. Soon they arrive at an abandoned building where Ginger was to have left fresh horses. At first they think that she has taken the money for herself, but soon see the horses and continue on to Mexico. In a small border town, Ginger happily greets everyone, and they have a celebration that night. Although Quincy talks to Jason about heading west to start a new game in the gold rush area, Jason is reticent about leaving the others and says that he will join Quincy later. Quincy says that they are like brothers, but Jason points out that they are different because he can be bought and sold. The next day, Ginger and Quincy are riding on the range, when Quincy reveals that Jason stole their $3,000 stake in the middle of the night. Ginger is shocked that Quincy watched Jason steal the money and did nothing, but Quincy assures her that it is fine because he has the bankbook for their Chicago account that contains $10,000 of their money. Ginger holds up the bankbook and says that she has always found that the best way to hold a man is to get a firm grip on his bankbook, then gallops ahead, with Quincy in pursuit, saying that he loves her.

Crew

Robert Anderson

Props

Charles G. Arnold

Camera Operator

Sharyn Bailey

Stunts

Gordon Bau

Makeup Supervisor

Louise Benjamin

Secretary to Director

Michael A. Benson

Camera Assistant

Glen Bird

Gaffer

Herman Blumenthal

Art Director

Jerry Brown

Stunts

R. Bishop Buckley

Composer

Don Cady

Best Boy

Roy Clark

Stunt Coordinator

Cliff Coleman

Assistant Director

Virginia Cook

Prod Secretary

Betty Crosby

Script Supervisor

Jack Cunningham

2d Assistant Director

Vince Deadrick

Stunts

Rudy Doucette

Stunts

Gordon Douglas

Fill-In Director

Ed Dutton

Transportation capt

Millard Evans

2d grip

Dick Farnsworth

Stunts

Fred Faust

Sound

James Garner

Executive Producer

John L. Goddard

Contract Writer

Kent Hays

Stunts

Paul Heller

Executive Producer

Marge Henderson

Secretary to prod

Ora Hudason

Sound boom

Ace Clyde Hudkins

Stunts

Dick Hudkins

Stunts

Bobby Johnson

Stunts

Reggie Jones

Key grip

Harry Keller

Producer

Hal Klein

Unit Production Manager

George P. Knauff

Composer

Fred Koenekamp

Director of Photography

Fred Lerner

Stunts

Carl Lindstrohm

Const Coordinator

Gene Lloyd

Sound cable

James Martell

Casting

Pierre Marton

Screenwriter

S. J. Mcgee

Stunts

Michael Mclean

Assistant film Editor

Ed Morey Iii

Camera Assistant

Tye Osward

Wardrobe

Reggie Parton

Stunts

Victor Paul

Stunts

James Payne

Set Decoration

Jack Perkins

Stunts

Jack Petty

Makeup

Thalia C. Phillips

Wardrobe

Carl C. Pitti

Stunts

Corky Randall

Wrangler

Glenn H. Randall Jr.

Stunts

Jean Burt Reilly

Supervisor hairstylist

Jack Roberts

Casting

Meta Rosenberg

Executive Producer

Herb Rundenow

Leadman

Mallo Savitt

Driver for James Garner

David Shire

Music

Richard Alan Simmons

Based on a Story by

Ken Spalding

Stunts

Barry Steinberg

Trainee Director

Walter Thompson

Film Editor

Mel Traxel

Stills

Kenny Walker

Props

Vernon White

Unit Publicist

Sherry Wilson

Hairdresser

Harry Zubrinsky

Loc

Film Details

MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Western
Comedy
Crime
Drama
Historical
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 30 Sep 1971; Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 Oct 1971
Production Company
Cherokee Productions; Warner Bros., Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Skin Game


Two western con artists team with a lady card shark to take on slavers.
Skin Game

Skin Game

Two western con artists team with a lady card shark to take on slavers.

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Some contemporary sources refer to the film as The Skin Game, although the onscreen credits list the title without the initial article. As the film opens, immediately after the Warner Bros. logo, a title card reading "Missouri, 1857" appears, followed by the opening credits, which roll over a sequence in which James Garner approaches the small town of Dirty Shame on horseback, leading Lou Gossett, who is on foot, by a tether.
       According to information in news items, in 1964, Universal Pictures bought Richard Alan Simmons' original story "Skin Game." From 1966 through 1969, Hollywood trade papers reported that the screenplay was being written by Peter Stone, and co-produced by Stone with Harry Keller. In early 1970, Burt Kennedy was announced as the film's director, and according to a April 28, 1970 Daily Variety news item, Warner Bros. had acquired the property and planned to produce the picture with Garner's Cherokee Company. As a Warner Bros. press release noted, the venture marked the first time that Garner had returned to work on the Warner Bros. lot in more than ten years.
       In the late 1950s, Garner had been under contract to the studio, which produced the successful television series Maverick, which starred Garner and launched his film career. Skin Game became part of a production deal between Warner Bros. and Garner that included a projected television series in which he would star. The series, titled Nichols, ran on the NBC television network from September 1971-August 1972. Executive producer Meta Rosenberg had, for many years prior to becoming a producer, been Garner's agent.
       According to Warner Bros. press releases and news items, in March 1971, director Paul Bogart was replaced by Gordon Douglas for approximately two to three weeks after Bogart contracted hepatitis. Prior to the film's release, Stone, who did not receive screen credit, requested that his name be taken off the credits because, as he stated later in a letter to the editor of New York magazine, "I no longer consider it based upon my screenplay...[it] was rewritten by a second writer who did not receive credit, on orders of the star-who is also the film's producer-thereby altering the theme, the plot and, most important, the characters." The letter was written in response to the review of the film by New York's film critic, Judith Crist, who noted in her review that Stone had written the screenplay under the pseudonym Pierre Marton [which Stone had previously used for his contribution to the 1966 film Arabesque] and criticized his work. Stone took exception to the criticism and accused Crist of blaming his work on the film, instead of those he thought responsible. According to Filmfacts, the "second writer" to whom Stone referred in his letter was possibly John L. Goddard, who was credited as a contributing writer in studio production files.
       As depicted in the film, in 1857, citizens of the Kansas Territory were embroiled in the issue of whether the territory should enter the Union as a Free State or a Slave State. Although Kansas eventually was admitted as a Free State, for many years, both before and after its admission, it became known as "Bleeding Kansas" because it was the site of violent clashes between those supporting and opposing slavery. Militant abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859), who is portrayed by Royal Dano in the film, led or authorized many raids throughout Kansas in the 1850s, some of which resulted in the deaths. Brown has been portrayed in many other films. For additional information about him, please consult the entry above for the 1940 Warner Bros. film Santa Fe Trail.
       As reported in an undated, but contemporary, Hollywood Reporter news item found in the production file on the film in the AMPAS Library, Elbert T. Hudson, president of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, sent letters to Charlton Heston, then president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), as well as to Warner Bros. executive producer Paul Heller and Cherokee executive producer Harry Keller to protest the "painting down" of white stuntmen for Gossett. The term referred to a practice of using makeup to make white performers appear black. No additional news items about the protest have been located.
       According to publicity materials on the film, Skin Game was heralded by Warner Bros. as their 1,500th motion picture. A 90-minute television movie entitled Sidekicks, directed by Burt Kennedy and based on the movie Skin Game, was broadcast in March 1974, starring Larry Hagman as "Quince Drew" and Gossett (by then known as Louis Gossett, Jr.), who revived his role as "Jason O'Rourke." Unlike the feature film, the television movie was set after the Civil War. According to a March 21, 1974 Hollywood Reporter news item, the television movie was intended as a pilot for a proposed series; however, the series was not made.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States October 1971

Released in United States on Video July 18, 1990

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1971

Released in United States on Video July 18, 1990

Released in United States October 1971