Although this wasn’t Hitchcock’s first film (he made at least five before this one, although at least one of those in deemed ‘lost’ [1926’s The Mountain Eagle
] and another two unfinished [Number 13
and Always Tell Your Wife
, from 1922 and 1923 respectively]) The Ring
is the earliest one I can get my hands on at present, so my travels through the history of Hitch will have to begin here. Telling the story of an amateur boxer working at a carnival who gets a shot at the big time after he is scouted by a renowned heavyweight, The Ring
almost knocked me out for being a Hitchcock film about one of the least Hitchcockian subjects, sport.
Carl Brisson is Jack ‘One Round’ Sander, who makes his living by challenging regular schmoes to a boxing match at a carnival. His fiance (Lillian Hall-Davis) chews gums as she works the ticket counter, and his friends are his assistants and announcer. One night, after dispatching the usual rag-tag band of hopefuls fairly promptly – one of whom defeats himself as he enters the ring – Jack meets his match against Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), who unbeknownst to Jack is an Australian heavyweight champion, and has already been making moves on his girl. After the fight, Bob claims his reward (a grand total of £2.00), and tells Jack he plans to give him his chance with the professionals. Bob and Jack’s fiance, and eventually his wife, become much closer as Jack becomes more successful, which leads to a love triangle developing between the three, coming to a head when Jack and Bob fight on another at the end of the film.
Had I not known this was a Hitchcock film, I would have been very surprised to discover the fact. Other than themes of deception and suspicion, this does not seem to fit within the rest of his work. Even the leading female is a brunette! Now I’m sure that Hitchcock obviously didn’t start out as a master film-maker – truly brilliant debut films are few and far between – but I had hoped for more than this, as this film is at best just mediocre. The plot is nothing special, and feels dragged out even at less than 90 minutes, and when you consider that the last 10+ minutes of this are a boxing match that feels like it lasts at least an hour, then the pacing is really quite a problem.
Hitchcock’s infamous mysogany and sexism is evident in places. Though she is essentially the third lead, Hall-Davis’ character is only ever referred to as ‘The Girl,’ even though her character has is called Millie. In both the opening credits and her introductory title card she is given that fairly vague, nondescript title. There is some interesting camerawork, especially early on in the initial fight, with the camera remaining stationery, pointed at Jack’s opponent’s corner of the ring, as the would-be fighter heads off screen to fight, only to be thrown back a second later, dishevelled and clearly defeated. However other than this and some occasional semi-dream sequences and video distortion to emulate rage, drunkeness and being knocked out, there isn’t much to take note of.
The title of ‘The Ring‘ most obviously refers to the boxing ring within which a fair amount of the film takes place, however it also refers to the wedding ring (this is possibly the first cinematic incarnation of a best man losing the ring), a bangle given to Millie by Bob, a forune-teller’s ring of cards and the circular nature of the plot, as the final scenes are very similar to the opening one, with Millie watching on as the two men fight it out. By the end, they are no longer just fighting for money and a title, but for honour, pride and the hand of the woman they both love.
I had one major gripe with the film. Throughout the story we are shown countless posters advertising boxing matches, upon which are the names of dozens of boxers. Yet of them all, Jack is the only one with a nickname. (Although at one point someone dates the movie a tad by referring to a boxer in a less than affectionate racial slur that I don’t care to repeat.) Surely at least one of the others would have a stage name, for the sake of realism? Also, look out for one of Bob’s assistants, who looks spot on like Jack Nance in Eraserhead.
Before watching this, I’d yet to see a Hitchcock film I hadn’t at least liked. I hope dearly that his learning curve was steep, and he got better very quickly.
Choose life 4/10