In the wake of the great success of The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog Alfred Hitchcock was considered to be England’s finest filmmaker. While that particular film channeled the young directors taste for the macabre, and a curiosity for the grim that would perhaps be the great inspiration on the wider Hitchcock filmography, his follow-up would cite a very different aspect of the man’s interests. The subject matter at the heart of The Ring is endemic of his youth, a period during which the young Hitchcock was a keen visitor to the entertainments of an early-20th Century London, of which the theatre, the music halls and of course the cinema formed a part of. As did the boxing, the sport around which this film revolves.
The Ring is perhaps the most expressionist work of the directors career, and the one film informed more than any other by his time in Germany in the 1920’s, during which the director worked on projects co-produced at both Ufa and Emelka. Extreme close-ups and montage layer the story, with subject matching cuts drawing witty and subtextual asides throughout (see the early mouth-to-mouth cut at the fairground for example).
While the title of The Ring might stream directly from the base in which a boxing match takes place in, metaphoric notions of “rings” can be felt throughout the picture. The core reference point would be the marriage to which the films plotline runs concurrent (the wedding ring being the key symbol). While the love triangle would become a key definer of Hitchcock’s later work, its here that the subject is raised for the first time (with the third party declaring his intentions via a circular bangle, another “ring”-like object). The “ring” appears as a visual motif throughout too, from the opening fair ground shots of a ride spinning via the familiar image of tickets being reeled from a spool.
As with the vast majority of Hitchcock’s oeuvre there’s a rich comedic wit present throughout, with the gags punctuating the serious matter. A literal prat fall breaks the tension of the films opening scenario, while a wedding party by way of carnival freak-show illustrates what is actually a fairly grim scenario (a woman coerced in to marriage against her complete wishes) There’s a specific shot in the latter scene in which the viewer is privy to the reaction of the priest overseeing the ceremony, and while only a few frames long and the slightest of incidents it remains memorable and noteworthy.
One of the films most notable technical flairs (and rather obvious when one considers Hitchcock’s past) is the manner in which inter-titles are used. They shift and develop according to the scenario presented, so, for example, a more formal font is used to portray a higher class of scenario being presented in certain scenes. Hitchcock made his start in cinema as a scenarist, so for such an area to remain a keen focus doesn’t surprise. Similar is the heavily visual manner in which other aspects of the film are presented. The section of the film portraying the rise up the ranks of ‘One-Round’ Jack Sander, in which a series of bout posters are used to indicate his success is endemic of the filmmakers influences at the time: Hitchcock was working in Germany at the time that F.W. Murnau was producing The Last Laugh, which is considered to be the pre-eminent visual feast of the silent era. It was seen as an almost primitive behaviour for a filmmaker to overly rely upon inter titles to convey a scenario.
In keeping with the nature of the film it is perhaps appropriate that the actual sport that The Ring revolves around has yet to be mentioned in this essay, due to the fact that it’s actually sometime before we see the protagonist’s actually engaged in any kind of boxing, and even then it’s from the perspective of the outside looking in. It’s a guarded view, and from that of the love interest of both men. The emotional key brings the camera back to her prior to the third member of the love triangle making his bow. Similarly guarded is the identity of the surprise winner of the opening bout too, with the reveal being both dramatic and humorous.
Somewhat forgotten by the masses, yet unfairly so, The Ring remains a superior example of the master of suspense’s early period.