Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Skin Game" Is Funny And Is Not a Skin-Flick

Cleveland Press October 14, 1971

So long as James Garner keeps playing variations of his old Maverick role he comes up with winners. That's what "Skin Game" is -- a winner, if you are willing to judge strictly on its own merits and not compare it with obviously better pictures. The film's particular merit is that it is designed for laughs and in this it succeeds.

"The Skin Game" has an unfortunate title since it suggests skin-flicks. Actually it refers to a con game played by Garner and his partner, Lou Gossett. The time is pre-Civil War and the setting is the South.

Gossett is black but a free-born man from New Jersey. The Garner-Gossett game is to wander into town where Garner -- the white master -- auctions off Gossett -- his black slave.

Garner then frees Gossett at nightfall and the two hightail it out of town to split the loot and make plans for the next town.

Gossett objects a little to the arrangement and is getting nervous. He suggests it would be rather nice if he could do the selling just once but Garner points out with some logic that Gossett is the color they're buying this season.

A few other people enter the picture to complicate matters. There is the professional slave trader who knows a good buy when he sees one. There is the pickpocket and con artist, Susan Clark, who also is pretty enough to turn Garner's head. And there is a pretty female slave, Brenda Sykes, who turns Gossett's head.

The plot turns are fairly predictable with the one last con job going wrong and Gossett and girlfriend headed for the Deep South with Garner and Miss Clark in pursuit.

"Skin Game" is very funny in spots without ever coming alive, without really grabbing you.

It might be a combination of script and direction which juxtaposes serious, even tragic elements with others that are purely slapstick. At other moments the movie strains at being funny to the point of silliness.

But overall "Skin Game" succeeds in being an entertaining movie.

Garner has the characterization of lovable rascal down to a science. Miss Clark is smooth in her role and Gossett shifts easily in the extremes of his role -- educated Northern black to folksy, servile Southern slave.