Alfred Hitchcock Enters “The Ring”

31 01 2010

“You might say that after The Lodger, The Ring was the next Hitchcock picture. There were all kinds of innovations in it, and I remember that at the premiere an elaborate montage got a round of applause. It was the first time that had ever happened to me.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“The Ring” is an unlikely hit for Hitchcock, as it’s a romantic drama set in the world of British boxing. Released by British International pictures in 1927, it stars Carl Brisson as “One-Round’ Jack Sander, Lillian Hall-Davis as the young ticket-taker who marries him, and Ian Hunter (not of Mott the Hoople fame) as Australian Heavyweight champ Bob Corby. Hitch is credited as screenwriter, although it’s been acknowledged that Alma Reville, who married Hitch in 1926, served as co-writer.

The action opens at a carnival, giving Hitch the opportunity to create some great visuals. The first thing we see is a closeup of a hand beating a drum, which focuses our on the events that are about to unfold.

Jack is an attraction at the carnival, one who will get in the ring with anyone. We watch a mustachioed barker goad several members of a crowd into entering the ring with Jack; they leave just as fast as the arrived, holding their jaws and looking stunned.

Meanwhile, Mabel, the ticket-taker, is chatted up by tall, laconic Bob Corby, who decides to fight Jack as well, seemingly to impress Mabel. In the crowded, smokey tent, Jack knocks down one man after another, including a tough looking sailor. Finally, the overdressed Corby steps into the little ring, while Jack’s trainer sneers at him.

Jack is shocked to find that Corby isn’t easy pickings. Corby wins the match, and after collecting his winnings, he and his friend tell Mabel that if Jack wants, he’s got a job as Corby’s new sparring partner. As the card they leave with Mabel reveals, Corby is heavyweight champion of Australia.

While Jack prepares for his new career, Corby continues to hang around Mabel, giving her a gift he bought with the money he won by beating Jack: A silver armband shaped like a snake. She loves it, but it’s not easy to wear something like that and keep it hidden. Hitchcock is clever with the reveal, though. Living in carnival wagons as they do, Jack is shaving one morning by looking at his reflection in a pond, and when Mabel sneaks up behind him to spoil his view in the water, the armband slips off into the pond. Jack reaches it, but the secret gift is revealed.

Jack continues as Corby’s sparring partner, and Corby continues hanging around Mabel, who doesn’t realize how jealous Jack is becoming. Jack starts to win his own fights, but the more time he spends training, the more time Mabel and Corby spend together, going to shows, eating dinner at fancy restaurants, and hitting swank parties. Finally, Jack wins the big match that gives him a shot at Corby – but when he gets home to tell Mabel, she’s out. Incensed, Jack goes out to find Corby at his favorite restaurant, but before he can confront his rival, he’s asked to dance. There’s another wonderful moment when the two boxers are dancing nearly back to back, unaware of each other.

After an ugly confrontation at the restaurant, the night of the big fight arrives. Mabel sits in the audience, seemingly on Corby’s side, but when it looks like Jack is going to lose, she leaps to his side and tells him that she’s in his corner. He goes back into the ring with renewed energy and wins the fight. After Jack is declared the winner, he hugs and kisses Mabel, and the screen fades to black.

You’d think that was the end of the film, but there’s a coda: In Corby’s dressing room, as he’s getting ready to leave for the night (with nary a scratch on him!), someone hands him Mabel’s armband, which she left behind. Smiling wryly, Corby tells the kid who brought it to him that he can keep it.

Although “The Ring” is schmaltzy and predictable, especially in the second half, there’s as lot to recommend it. Hitch employs some remarkable tricks  in his camera work, like the shots below. On the left, we see the point of view of a man in the carnival tent, imagining all the men Jack Sanders has beaten; on the right is a shot of Jack’s trainer drunkenly watching Jack and Corby pretend to spar across a table.

But the best part of the picture is the first half hour, set in the carnival. Hitch does a terrific job bringing the viewer into the scene, and, well, you can see for yourself here in the opening ten minutes of the pictures:

And, in case you’re wondering, Hitch makes no appearance in “The Ring.” His next screen cameo appears to be in 1928’s “Easy Virtue.”

Up next, Hitch traces the dissolution of young Ivor Novello in “Downhill.”

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