I was really looking forward to this. After two films that followed- to some extent or another- a reliably Hitchcockian formula, 1927’s The Ring held the promise of something intriguingly different. It is also the only film of Hitchcock’s that he wrote for himself. Added to this, it is a boxing film and I grew up a boy obsessed with the Rocky movies. Finally, there was a practical matter; I didn’t own a copy of the film but understood that it was freely available on YouTube and the like, but it isn’t (in any watchable form) and so there was an added bit of build-up as I waited for a belatedly ordered DVD to arrive.
So, what of it? Well, the plot is pretty trite but transmits well to the screen. The hero- played with some verve by Carl Brisson- is straightforward and appealing but the object of his affection- played by Lillian Hall-Davis- seems barely worth his time and energy. Another lesson for the young Director here perhaps; in his previous film, he didn’t get the audience to root for his hero, but this time we don’t buy into the quest. No wonder some of his later films turn upon the chase for an unexplained-but-unquestionably-important McGuffin.
The simplistic plot leaves space for Hitchcock to inject some verve into the whole thing. There are some lovely moments; notably the Siamese twins bickering over which side of the aisle to sit in church and pulling in opposite directions, the end of the first bout being obscured by spectators so the winner remains hidden from viewer, the Fortune Teller simultaneously eavesdropping on two conversations either side of her caravan, the champagne poured out at the beginning of a party going flat as we wait for Jack’s wife to return.
On the other hand, there’s also this:
Strong influence on Tarantino, there.
Interestingly the flamboyant title cards for The Lodger were succeeded by plain black and white for The Ring. Hitchcock, of course, got his start in the movies as a title card artist and when watching last week’s film I was wondering whether Hitchcock was giving title card artists an enhanced profile as an act of professional solidarity. If he was, it didn’t last.
It is fitting that Hitchcock began by painting illustrations to tell a story, for that is where he would excel. This is the only film which he scripted for himself and even here the script is of secondary importance, there are less obviously memorable visuals here than in The Lodger but it still looks great- the slapstick comedy moments are handled without fuss, the use of double exposure to show a character and their thoughts seems natural and a couple of those trick transitions that would become a visual quirk are present- the best of these has Bob’s manager shaking hands on a deal with Jack, while Jack is sliding a gift bangle onto Jack’s love interest’s arm. There is also a smart use of boxing posters shown in different seasons with Jack’s name ranking higher in each to indicate his progress towards the title fight. It’s these smart visual expositions which I’m enjoying the most in these films. I’m beginning to develop a theory that the demands of silent film-making shaped Hitchcock’s visual style to such a degree that directors who have only known talkies can’t approach storytelling in the same way.
Best of all of the visuals, though, are several brief fight scenes which seem as authentic as any more recent ones. They are certainly more convincing than Jack’s romance and his wife’s realisation of her deeper feelings.
This one is a bit hit and miss, but it’s okay. Let’s call it an interesting experiment in a genre picture.