The Ring (1927) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for thematic material and smoking
Running Time: 116 min. (US version runs 72 min.)
Cast: Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall-Davis, Ian Hunter, Forrester Harvey, Harry Terry, Gordon Harker
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock
Review published November 13, 2013
The Ring is a silent film from 1927, made by director (and screenwriter here, the only film to give him sole credit) Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps). It's a familiar melodramatic piece surrounding two men vying for the same woman, this time set around the world of boxing. Carl Brisson (The Manxman, Murder at the Vanities) co-stars as 'One-Round' Jack Sander (his nickname comes from the fact that he usually knocks out his opponents in the first round), a headstrong carnival side-show boxer who draws in plenty of paying customers and challenges them to go toe-to-toe with him in the ring.
He meets his one true challenger in Bob Corby (Hunter, The Adventures of Robin Hood), who manages to take down "One Round" after a good bout of several rounds, only to be revealed layer as the champion boxer of Australia. However, seeing her man lose causes Sander's girlfriend (Hall-Davis, The Farmer's Wife) to switch her interests to Corby, though not enough for her to leave her man altogether, even after he proposes marriage. Still, Sander, who initially takes up a job as Corby's sparring partner, realizes he will have to take down Corby in the ring if he wants to gain her interest again, which he aims to do if he can climb the ranks high enough to earn a title bout.
Although it isn't one of his trademark thrillers, this early Hitchcock work shows the director experimenting with the visual aspect of cinema, borrowing heavily from the German expressionists of the era, working very well with limited resources in telling an emotional story without many words, but with a good deal of symbolism. For instance, the 'ring' of the title not only refers to the boxing ring, but also the wedding ring that is seemingly up for grabs pending the result of the big fight at the end. In addition to the wedding ring, Sander's girl also sports a serpentine bangle given to her as a present by Corby that she surreptitiously tries to keep on her as a token of their connection. The bangle is one of several "open-ended rings" that are associated with the Aussie boxer (she later hands him a horseshoe), as if the say that the the marriage may be an open one. A shot in which the bangle slides down the girl's arm as she sports her wedding ring evokes the feeling of dual ownership, as well as the insidious nature of her duplicitous romantic interests. The film also comes "full circle" by being bookended by fights between Sander and Corby.
Viewers looking for a good example of a boxing movie should note that the boxing footage isn't well choreographed or realistic, given the technical limitations and the inexperience of the filmmakers at this time, especially when it comes to how to compose an action montage -- Hitchcock may have been ahead of his time, but not that much. It's more of a story about a love triangle, using the boxing arena as a metaphor for the battle for a woman's heart, albeit a woman who seems hardly worth fighting for, given her shallow, fickle interest (that she actually keeps a framed photo of Corby in their apartment is more than a bit callous). However, the culmination of the battle reveals her to be a little more deep in her emotions than she initially appears, and the final resolution, not to the boxing match, but to the decisive victory for her affections (set up nicely by Hitch in his foreshadowing at a card-reading fortune teller which shows her conflicted between the King of Diamonds and King of Hearts), is actually quite touching.
The film is also notable for the many experimental touches by Hitchcock in creating mood and atmosphere. A scene depicting the first-person view of an inebriated man produces a carnival-mirror perspective that is still quite effective. While much of the crowd scene uses painted backdrops to show additional attendees to the boxing matches, the use of extras is quite good for the bouts as well as for the shots in and around the carnival. There are also some instances of overlays being used, as well as dissolves and dual exposures.
I do feel the need to caution some viewers that there are a couple of ostensible instances of racism in the film. The movie starts off with an all-white carnival crowd taking turns throwing eggs and laughing at a black man. There is even an moment of intertitle dialogue when a black opponent is referred to with a harsh epithet by one of the characters. This is tempered somewhat by the inclusion of a black supporting character as one of Sander's friends. One could make the argument that it was the job of the man to have eggs thrown at him, and that the one character who says the 'n-word' is a racist himself and not indicative of Hitchcock's own views, but still, it may make for an uncomfortable viewing, regardless of the more racially insensitive era in which they were made.
The Ring ranks as one of Hitchcock's best silent films, perhaps only rivaled by The Lodger as his very best of the pre-Murder! period. Though the language is limited, The Ring benefits from a good main cast, and some very good character touches provided by the Master himself, making this a film recommended for Hitchcock fans for those who don't mind a silent film. It's worth seeking out the 'restored' release taken from the restored master print, one of nine silent Hitch works deemed of sufficient cultural significance to restore, of the film put out by Studio Canal, which draws out a good deal of the impressive (for its era) cinematography and detail in the actors' faces that are critical in a film that forces the viewer to read expressions to derive meaning. The improved version is a (pun intended) knockout, enhanced by a piano score accompaniment that works well with the action on the screen -- don't settle for less.
©2013 Vince Leo