“The Ring” (1927)

IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH ALFRED HITCHCOCK REVIEW: “The Ring” stars Carl Brisson (The Manxman, All the King’s Horses), Lillian Hall-Davis (The Farmer’s Wife, Her Reputation), Ian Hunter (The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Little Princess), Forrester Harvey (The Invisible Man, Rebecca), Harry Terry (Piccadilly, The Fugitive [1939]), Gordon Harker (Rome Express, Inspector Hornleigh), and Clare Greet (Mrs. Dane’s Defence, Lord Camber’s Ladies). It is written and directed by Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds, North by Northwest).

When boxer One-Round Jack (Brisson) loses his first match to boxing champion Bob Corby (Hunter), he finds himself competing for the love of his wife Mabel (Hall-Davis).

Before there was “Raging Bull,” before there was “Rocky,” there was “The Ring.” Would I grade it similarly to those legends? Not particularly. I just liked the ring of that sentence… no pun intended.

I was surprised to find that Hitchcock made a boxing movie. When looking at the DVD box, I thought I was in for a horror (given how there is already an infamous film with the same title). Low and behold, the master of thrills put together a flick about two boxers competing for the same woman. And while it is fairly insignificant as a story, it was nice to see something different from him.

“The Ring” is an interesting study of the sports film on the silent, black-and-white screen. Well, technically it isn’t a sports film, but Hitchcock managed to pull off boxing match-ups with crowds of people… all with the clunky technology of the late 1920’s. The fact that they were able to light those sequences for such bulky, difficult cameras back then is insane. Makes me wish I didn’t have such a crappy transfer of the movie (this discount DVD from Ollie’s really needs to step it up). The cinematography of these fights is quite innovative for its time. They implemented a few effects to better simulate the POV of a boxer; whether it be a handheld feel, editing that shows disillusionment (from getting punched repeatedly), or rapid cutting. I’m not sure how difficult this was to achieve, but it’s fairly modern for what it is. I’ve seen similar filmmaking techniques utilized in the more famous boxing features.

As for the story, it’s not too shabby. I stated before that it is insignificant, which may be harsh, but it certainly isn’t one to remember. What I liked most about it was how, at the very least, Hitchcock adds nuances to a tired storyline. The baseline is boxers fight over a girl (whoopdy-do), but there’s a few spins on it that at least make it different. Our lead, One-Round Jack, comes from the circus, and it’s only when he is bested for the first time that he actually joins the boxing circuit. His journey to reclaim his wife kept me engaged for the most part, though I will say that the decision Mabel makes would’ve been conveyed better if they gave more time to her role toward the end. An intriguing facet about this story is how Hitchcock juggles the perspectives of our three leading characters (One-Round Jack, Mabel, and Bob Corby). At varying points in the movie, particularly the first act, I was unsure whose movie this was. We open with Corby, and are led to believe that his journey is the one we will follow. But then the focus shifts to Mabel, who falls for Corby and tries to be discreet about it from her boyfriend (later, husband) One-Round Jack. It’s only in the second act that Jack takes the mantle, and we follow him to the end. This shift of character focus isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if anything, I found it a cool device. I only wish that Hitchcock followed through with it throughout the picture.

I may be in the minority, but I think that “The Ring” outperforms “The Lodger.” Not by much, mind you, but I found myself enjoying the experience of this boxing flick more than the former thriller. There’s more of a world in this story, spanning from the circus to the boxing ring. On top of that, the characters have a bit more depth, albeit a slight development. Their goals/desires are simplistic; quite typical of a romance. But we have three perspectives to chew up the scenery, and I didn’t find myself longing for title cards as much to explain what a character is thinking. The performances sell the scenes enough, as does the filming style, and I thought Hitchcock developed a better visual sense with his editing this go-around (specifically, showing the desires/thoughts of our characters by fading in what they are visualizing next to them in the same frame).

“The Ring” works in quite a few ways. For its time, Hitchcock pushes the limits of cinematography/editing to capture something more engaging than his earlier outing, “The Lodger.” It doesn’t surpass the boxing classics we’ve come to know and love, but it certainly lays the groundwork. The acting sells the emotion, and the filmmaking sells the thrills of fighting in the ring. There’s not much more you can ask for out of this silent picture. FINAL SCORE: 70%= Burnt Popcorn

Here’s a clip:

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