02 October 2008

The Ring (1927)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / UK / 116 mins.

Alfred Hitchcock rarely received credit for his role in the drafting of screenplays. He was highly selective of his material, and was later known to be intricately involved in the editing and revision process, working either as lead adapter or participating in extensive late-night brainstorming sessions with different writers.

However, he rarely received actual on-screen credit. One of the only exceptions is The Ring from 1927. It was his sixth film overall, but the one that was immediately released after The Lodger. He co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Alma, who went uncredited. (In one way or another, for as long as her health allowed, she would be involved behind the scenes of many of his films. Frequently she would be listed as a continuity adviser for many of his films, but her duties ranged from helping Hitchcock select screenplays and polish the ones that weren't yet perfect.)

The film is a silent boxing melodrama that is typical of many of Hitchcock's early British films: neither particularly bad nor particularly good, spontaneously brought alive with moments of sheer brilliance amidst widespread mediocrity. The plot follows Jack (Carl Brisson), who is earning money and fame as an amateur fighter. His defeat to a heavyweight fighter named Bob (Ian Hunter) is at first humiliating, but then opens the door to legitimate training for Jack; however, the door is also open for Bob to Jack's girlfriend-turned-wife (Lillian Hall Davis).

As a director and a writer, Hitchcock succeeds at the former and stumbles at the latter. The script is a little lame, and the love triangle admittedly makes the film somewhat of a bore. What is surprisingly good are the fledgling visuals of Hitchcock's signature style that are on full display. Due credit goes to Jack Cox, the cinematographer who would work with Hitchcock on eleven of the director's films (all British). The Ring was their first collaboration, and as Patrick McGilligan writes in his biography of the director, Cox was an "effects" cameraman with years of experience, and while the Hitchcock didn't desire any advice in composing his frame, he "wanted a cameraman who would take a dare." In many ways the physical reach of the camera in The Ring is the best the duo would create during their time together: sophisticated point-of-view shots, jarring close-ups, expert montages, askew angles – all of which take particular effect during the fighting scenes and had an undoubted influence on boxing films for generations to come.

As a film it might not be great, but The Ring takes on greater significance as proof that the director's mind was actively engaged in the physical construction of his films very early in his career, eager to establish his own vision and his own thumbprint.


Sam Juliano,  02 October, 2008  

T.S., I do own THE RING in a German boxset of his early British films, but alas I confess I haven't yet watched it. Your review has exposed this lamentable fact.

Again some very nice historical information as Hitch was still finding his voice, and for the first time received dual credit. As always, your style is very engaging.

darkcitydame4e 02 October, 2008  

Hi! T.S.,
A very interesting (I would say,"fair and balanced" review of AH's film "The Ring."
With you not "mincing" words about the "negative aspects" (An average plot, a "lame" script and Hitch's writing skills?!?) and the "positive aspects"(The emergence of Hitch's style, the camera work of Jack Cox and the boxing scenes that have influenced future boxing films.)

Just like Sam Juliano, I also own the film, but alas (I haven't watch it yet, but that is going to change this evening.) Unlike, S.J. I own it as part of a 10 boxset of Hitchcock's British collection that my brother purchased for me last Christmas.


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