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An introduction to silent Hitchcock: The Ring

June 1, 2012
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The only one of Hitchcock’s silents not to be a literary adaptation and his first to be made at British International Pictures, The Ring is a boxing movie, with a love triangle plot neatly expressed by the film’s central symbol. The ring is where Jack “One Round” Sander and his rival Bob compete, but it’s also a nod to the wedding band that Jack’s wife Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis) wears, and her bracelet, which was given to her by … Bob.

With flashy editing that betrays a Soviet influence and some neat typological tricks too, The Ring is a visual triumph. The subject matter may not be what we expect from the master of suspense, but Hitchcock was very proud of it:

“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.”

The Bioscope was just as fond of it as it was of The Lodger, heralding it as “the most magnificent British film ever made”.

The Ring (1927)

The Ring (1927)

That said, The Ring is not so popular today. The plot lacks the fireworks of a Hitchcock thriller and the stars here are not so well remembered as Novello, say. There’s also the matter of some outdated and offensive language. The Ring is set in multiracial 1920s London, and yes, some people use that word. They did then. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not a reason to avoid the film.

The Ring is one of Hitchcock’s most successful silents, and its tight dramatic structure as well as its obsession with circles is a precursor to the pleasing graphical neatness of many of his better-loved later films: the grids of glass in Rear Window and the “criss-cross” of train tracks in Strangers on a Train. Indeed, from Kim Novak’s chignon to Janet Leigh’s iris, spirals and circles continued to fascinate Hitchcock throughout his career (the explanation for this may be slightly distasteful).

It’s also worth remembering that this is the work of Hitchcock’s A-team – he collaborated on the script with Eliot Stannard and, of course, Alma Reville. Those visual effects are enhanced by the work of painter W Percy Day, too.

This summer’s gala screening of the BFI’s restoration of The Ring promises to reinvigorate the film. A film with this much style and swagger will shine when it has been been fully restored and it’s going to be shown at the Hackney Empire with a score by Soweto Kinch, known for his socially aware fusion of hip-hop and jazz. Indeed, the premiere screening of the new print at this year’s Cannes apparently received a standing ovation.

Synopsis: Love triangle melodrama set in the world of boxing. When Jack ‘One Round’ Sander is discovered by promoter James Ware, his career takes off. But rival Bob Corby, heavyweight champion takes an interest in his girlfriend. (BFI Screenonline)

Hitchcock moment: Eight minutes in: a discovery, a proposal, and a whole lot of circles within circles.

Watch out for: The party scene

Links worth clicking:

The Ring screens at the Hackney Empire on 13 July 2012, with  a new score by Soweto Kinch. The screening will also be livestreamed on The SpaceMore information here.

Don’t forget that you can still donate to the For the Love of Film Blogathon, to get The White Shadow streamed online with a new score, if you can, please spare some cash for this good cause.

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