The Ring is the only film Alfred Hitchcock wrote an original screenplay for. It is also an example of why Alfred Hitchcock never went on to write any more original screenplays. This is in no way to say the film is bad, it just isn’t outstanding. This is in part due to subject matter that doesn’t suit Hitchcock’s style and in part due to a poor use of dialogue.
Just the idea of Alfred Hitchcock making a boxing picture sounds like a poor idea. Such films are in the realm of melodrama and Hitchcock is a director of thrillers. It also doesn’t help that the film is the typical love triangle. The Girl (Lillian Hall-Davis) works as the ticket booth of a boxing attraction at a fair. Her fiancé is “One-round” Jack (Carl Brisson) but another boxer named Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) catches her fancy. Jack is a poor, amateur boxer while Bob is the rich, better looking and a professional boxer.
Therefore, the two gentlemen literally fight over this woman. It’s amusing in a kind of way but the film plays out as a typical melodrama. In and of itself it’s not a poor film; it does a lot of things well. But the fact is that Hitchcock was never great at pathos means the audience is not able to connect to the characters like the melodramas of other silent directors, mainly D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille.
Perhaps the greatest reason why is that Hitchcock struggles to understand how to properly use the intertitles in the melodrama. While he used them sparsely and effectively in The Lodger, when he applies the same mentality to The Ring it doesn’t work. Melodramas focus a lot on people talking. Therefore, when there are a number of lengthy spaces in the film with not an intertitle in sight there’s a problem. Entire exchanges are left for us to infer and one gets the sense that it might be valuable to at least get the gist of what the conversation was about.
Visually, Hitchcock takes a number of his ideas from The Lodger and creates an effective physiological angle. Throughout the film he uses dissolves to show what a character is thinking about at a given moment. He also uses a number of point of view shots, perhaps the best one being a shot of a drunken man’s view warping and blurring until he passes out. However, for all his creative ideas, he hired a crappy lighting and camera team because a lot of scenes are either over-lit or overexposed with the image washing out.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that the film has a smattering of racism. One of the opening scenes of the film is an unrelated aside where two children throw eggs at a black man in a dunking booth while a large crowd of white people laugh, including a police officer standing right next to the children. One person also refers to a black person as an n-word. I fully understand that the ‘20s was a different time with a different social context but l feel it my duty to note that modern audiences will likely find it offensive.
Fortunately, the picture overall is not such an offence. While it’s not as dramatic and involving as it should be, Hitchcock makes some generic material slightly interesting. It still ends up being a generic picture that lacks the morbid humor and great suspense of a Hitchcock film but there’s traces of his style here that any diehard fan of his should see. Everyone else should stick to Griffith and DeMille for their silent melodramas.