Monday, October 13, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Features: "The Ring"

Continuing my irregularly scheduled capsule reviews of Alfred Hitchcock's eight extant silent features, I present The Ring. The Ring can be found on those cheapy DVD sets of Hitchcock's early films; it's considered one of Hitch's best silent films, but certainly wouldn't compete with his later masterworks.

Hitchcock's silents were his training ground; and his later films are that much more visual as a result of his having started in the silent era. His silents are unfortunately either unreleased on VHS/DVD or in unrestored state on poorly presented DVDs. For the best quality/most reliable seller out there, if you are looking for Hitchcock's unreleased DVD titles (such as Downhill, Waltzes From Vienna, among others) I recommend this seller.

The Ring (1927)
A carnival fighter named “one round” Jack Sander and a prizefighter who he comes to work with as a sparring partner and later competes against, vie for the same girl.

Silent melodrama is well made but standard fare, saved by a real feeling for the flapper era and a heavy dose of Hitchcockian humor. Some of the comedy bits include: a guy challenging “one round Jack,” slipping and falling on the way into the ring and counted down by the referee; the carnival barker putting on a smile while cursing the challenger that beat “one round Jack” under his breath; the priest at Jack’s wedding shocked at the sight of the circus freaks in attendance at the wedding. A few interesting visual ideas: a stationary billboard is seen through successive weeks with Jack’s name rising higher and higher; Jack envisioning his wife and the prizefighter in superimposition (getting larger and larger) as the manager tells him to “leave his wife behind”; during the big fight Jack sees Nelly in the crowd and as the camera tracks into her face he is knocked out with a flash and all goes dizzy and out-of-focus. Two uncomfortably racist moments appear in the movie: in the film’s opening, an African-American man is set up at the dunking tank at the circus and soon made the target of children who throw eggs in his face (as the crowd laughs); a title midway through the film reads, “If you win this fight with the nigger, you’ll be in the running for the championship.” The “ring” refers alternately to a boxing ring and a wedding ring. Good but never great.

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