Hitchmania: The Ring (1927)
After Easy Virtue, Alfred Hitchcock hit the boxing ring with 1927’s The Ring. The British director was a regular attendee at prize fights, so he certainly knew his subject matter. He loved the idea of two men battling it out and loved contemplating all of the potential personal issues that could be boiling just below the surface.
In his first feature with British International Pictures, Hitchcock brought in Jack Cox for photography and C. W. Arnold as the art director. These two moves prove integral to how The Ring looks and feels, with adventurous shot placements and innovative special effects giving the director’s clever imagery even more vibrancy.
The silent film stars Carl Brisson as “One Round” Jack. He is a boxer on the circus sideshow circuit and he takes on all comers in a tent. His girlfriend is Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis). She sells tickets to the fights. Because Jack has been racking up the wins, a boxing promoter brings Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) in to test his luck. For the first time in his life, Jack is defeated – but he doesn’t know he’s just taken on a champ.
Bob, meanwhile, is attracted to Mabel and that’s where the real trouble begins. After inviting Jack to become his sparring partner, Bob ratchets up the attraction to Mabel and gives her a bangle. Jack wants to marry the girl and gives her a ring of a different sort. They wed, but that doesn’t stop Bob from carrying on with Mabel. To make matters worse for poor Jack, Mabel is just fine with the attention.
Hitchcock’s film is made with deep affection. The characters are treated with respect, even Bob, and their actions make sense in the larger context. The love triangle is believable and Mabel’s attraction to the boxing champion seems to really crush Jack. Hitch wisely sets up an underdog story of sorts and we cheer “One Round” as he moves through the ranks to fight Bob, but nobody is forced to play the heel.
The Ring involves the audience in a different world, creating not just the boxing universe but that of the circus as well. This involves a fortune teller and some rather eccentric characters. When the group comes together at a particularly silly wedding, the juxtaposition between Jack’s world of Siamese twins and Bob’s world of ritzy London parties crystallizes.
There are a number of brilliant scenes that add layers to the three characters. Mabel’s attempts to hide the bracelet (one of at least three “rings” the title references) build some tension, especially when it slips down right at the moment Jack places the ring on her finger. There are also scenes that deal with Jack’s righteous jealousy, like when a speed bag takes on the face of his rival and “One Round” knocks it the hell out.
As The Ring builds to its inevitable closing fight, Hitchcock wisely paces himself. The seasons pass as Jack works up the ranks, for instance, and the director illustrates this passage with trees blossoming and snow falling before a billboard that outlines the boxer’s rise. There are moments of tension between Bob and Jack too, but for the most part their characters remain civil.
The big fight is truly a terrific cinematic moment. Hitchcock uses point-of-view shots and angular approaches, along with lighting and champagne for effect, to illustrate that the boxing ring is both far removed and not-so-far removed from the respective worlds of Bob and Jack.
While Hitchcock is mostly associated with suspense and murder, The Ring is a strong piece of work. It isn’t often listed among his greatest works and it does admittedly have some problems with clumsiness in places. Still, it’s a highly entertaining character piece and the boxing scenes are terrifically rendered. Hitch, the master of setting the scene and evoking the tone, is well on his way with this picture.