Ring, The (1927)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/19/13 22:24:48

"The guy that made this boxing silent shows some potential."
3 stars (Average)

Before Alfred Hitchcock was a world-renowned auteur, he was just a guy who made movies, cranking them out relatively quickly for studios that demanded new product at a fairly regular clip. Sometimes that pressure to produce leads to surprising gems, and sometimes it gets you "The Ring", an adequate silent drama that works well enough to not be an embarrassment eighty-five years later.

"One-Round" Jack Sander (Carl Brisson) is a boxer at an English carnival - anybody who buys a ticket an try and last a round with him to win a pound for their sixpence. One day he meets his match, only to find out that the person who beat him is Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), the Australian champion. Bob and his agent are actually looking for a sparring partner, although Bob also has his eye on the pretty ticket taker (Lillian Hall Davis). Well, she's Jack's girl, but will that last with the new guy in the picture - even if this new job means she and Jack can finally get married?

Love triangles are a tricky thing to pull off, especially when they feature an existing relationship and an interloper as The Ring does. In fact, I almost think Hitchcock does it a little too well: The audience isn't told that Mabel (as a letter written to her reads; she is just "the Girl" in the credits) and Jack are together until after we've seen her and Bob flirting, so it's not necessarily a given that they'll root for things to work out there. And yet, as the film shifts more toward Jack's point of view, that's the route it takes, that the existing relationship should take precedence even though Mabel & Bob seem well-suited and it's never really clear just what she is to Jack.

At least the cast has what it takes to communicate what's going on. Brisson does a fine job as the working-class man whose excitement at his new life turns to wariness; no matter what we think of Mabel or Bob, we do recognize that this guy loves that girl, possibly against reason, and he's someone we can root for. Ian Hunter doesn't make a villain out of Bob, particularly; he's quite charming in his introduction, even if the story does reveal it to be false modesty, and as much as he's mainly there as an obstacle, he isn't lacking in personality. Mabel may be somewhat mercenary and self-serving, but Lillian Hall Davis does make her interestingly human in how she enjoys attention and feels backed into situations, even if she doesn't respond to them well.

One impressive way that Hitchcock and the cast bring this characterization out is in the inevitable match between Jack and Bob that serves as the movie's climax. It's a great early example of storytelling through action, as we see Bob as powerful without much effort, never seeming to exert himself unduly to get effect, while Jack scraps, taking a lot of effort to try and wear down Bob only to find himself on the mat, wondering what just happened but getting back up. It's almost surprisingly good, as a lot of the boxing scenes from earlier in the picture were not that great. That may be deliberate - Hitchcock isn't going to waste something powerful on preliminaries. He is showing examples of how he can communicate ideas symbolically, as the ring of the title refers not only to a boxing ring but to a wedding ring as well as the bracelet Bob gives Mabel early on (whose snake motif is clearly meant to communicate betrayal). Hitchcock and cinematographer John Cox get some great carnival imagery, and there are some pretty salacious moments for a film made in 1927.

In fact, there's a reasonable argument that "The Ring" is one of those gems that gets produced when an unusual talent takes on a seemingly unremarkable project. I don't quite think that Hitchcock elevates this story to something great, but he certainly makes an eminently watchable movie.

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