It’s The James Garner Blogathon!
I was excited to participate in this terrific “Blogathon”, celebrating the films of iconic Actor James Garner….here is the link for you to head over and see ALL of the films on display – and this exclusive interview with Garner’s daughter!
My “Cult Movie Monday” is a daring James Garner comedy about slavery in the old west…yes, a comedy about slavery!
“Skin Game” – 1971’s Slavery Comedy!
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but there was a western comedy about the topic of slavery – but it was so much more as well!
“Skin Game” starred James Garner, Louis Gossett Jr, Susan Clark and Ed Asner – and it used a unique plot to raise some relevant questions for audiences to ponder.
Directed by Paul Bogart, James Garner gives a terrific performance as Quincy, who along with partner Drew, played by Gossett, travel the west playing a “skin game.” For ease in reading, I will refer to them by their real names going forward.
The plot of “Skin Game” was provocative for 1971: the two were con men, Garner selling his black partner into slavery, then helping him escape.
Here is the trailer:
As you can see, the trailer echoes the film – what begins as a comedy turns much more serious later in the film.
Things turn dramatic when Gossett is captured by an evil slave trader who isn’t so easily conned – and Ed Asner brings the requisite sliminess to the role.
It takes the help of card shark Susan Clark to help Garner save his partner. Clark also brings a lot of humor to the film as well.
“No Master Quincy, please don’t do it boss!”
These are the first words Gossett says in the film, as his “owner” auctions him off to the highest bidder in a noisy bar – and one of the bidders demands to see Gossett without a shirt.
Right after the sale, Garner begins counting the cash, drawing a rebuke from the buyer:
“Its all there!” he exclaims.
“So’s he,” Garner replies, “but you still made me take his shirt off so you could see him!”
The film has sharp-edged dialogue about race and slavery, like when Gossett complains that he is the one always being sold:
“What are you gonna do?” Garner exclaims, “you’re the color they’re buying this year…”
They decide to pull one last con before going back to Chicago, but their con is discovered and Gossett is “sold” to Asner, while Garner ends up in jail. Susan Clark bails him out, and they team up to find Gossett and free him for good.
Later, Garner called the film:
“a funny movie if you don’t mind jokes about slavery.”
He’s right, look at how the posters make a joke of slavery, and there is plenty of comedy in the film as well, but also a lot of pointed dialogue about race, as when Garner tries to convince Gossett to keep working with him:
“We’re enough alike to be brothers!”
“Except for one little thing,” Gossett replies, “one small little difference. Because of that, I can be bought and sold like a horse – and you can do the buying and the selling.”
Garner listens to him, then gives the audience a slow, thoughtful reaction that shows that he has been “woke”.
“Skin Game” is entertaining and thoughtful, especially so when you consider the year it came out.
1971 was the year that John Wayne gave his infamous interview to Playboy, including this comment about race:
“With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so,” Wayne said. “But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
As you can see, Hollywood was just waking up to the issue of race and equality, and “Skin Game” was an example of the balancing act the entertainment industry was trying to pull off.
While mainstream Hollywood had this “slavery comedy”, another film that year told the story of racism from an entirely different point of view:
“Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song” was a powerful examination of the black experience in America – a micro-budget film from Melvin Van Peebles that he had to fight to get in theaters….as his shirt proclaims:
“Rated ‘X’ By An All-White Jury!”
“Rated ‘X’ By An All-White Jury!”
This is such an important film in cinema history – see the trailer and more details here:
If these films aren’t for you, how about this gritty revenge western, released the same year:
Susan Clark starred in this alongside Burt Lancaster in this great western tale of revenge – one of two classic Lancaster westerns in the early 70’s – click her to see the trailers:
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Leave me a comment and let me know your favorite James Garner films, and click here to see more of the James Garner Blogathon!