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He was not yet 28 years old in the summer of 1927, but Alfred Hitchcock was already the highest-paid director in England. By that date he had made only one hit movie, The Lodger (1927), but it showed enough signs of talent to bring him to the attention of John Maxwell, a Scottish film distributor. Maxwell, who had recently formed the new studio British International Pictures, dangled a high salary before the young filmmaker, luring Hitchcock away from Gainborough Studios where he had begun his career. The studio chief was probably hoping for another thriller but, when he asked Hitchcock what he wanted to make, the rotund young director announced the surprising choice of a melodrama about boxing.
"It wasn't the boxing that fascinated me so much," Hitchcock later recalled, "although I was interested in the show - all the details connected with it. Like pouring champagne over the head of the boxer at the thirteenth round, if he was going a bit groggy. You'd hear them uncork the champagne bottle and pour the whole bottle over his head."
The movie that resulted from all this observation, The Ring (1927), is unique in the director's filmography as the only movie written solely by Hitchcock from his own original idea. The story is not very complicated. A carnival-show boxer, "One Round" Jack Sander (Carl Brisson) meets his match in Australian champion Bob Corby (Ian Hunter). Their rivalry extends beyond the ring to Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis), the beautiful ticket seller at the carnival. Jack marries her but the more successful Bob comes between them.
What interested Hitchcock much more than the plot were the ways he could use the camera to tell the story. Hitchcock later told fellow director Francois Truffaut of one subtle visual detail he inserted into the first fight between "One Round" Jack and Bob Corby: "At the end of the first round the barker took out the card indicating the round number, which was old and shabby, and they put up number two. It was brand-new! One-Round Jack was so good that they'd never got around to using it before! I think this touch was lost on the audience."
Hitchcock filled The Ring with a wide array of often-elaborate shots even though he had to break in a new cameraman after losing his original cinematographer to a salary dispute. Hitchcock recalled, "I had to ask them who they had to replace him. They said, 'Well, we've got only one cameraman and he's a second; we don't have any principal cameramen.' So I took him, and I taught him photography." That cameraman, Jack Cox, had a rough first day of class as the British film magazine The Cine-Technician described it: "Jack's first day's work, with a hand-turn Mitchell he'd never used before, was a sequence of 18 camera dissolves of the various Fun Fair sideshows. Jack sweated blood over that day's work and didn't sleep at all that night. But when they saw the rushes next day, everything was the white-headed boy." Cox remained Hitchcock's principal photographer for his next nine films.
The Ring was not a commercial success but was greeted warmly by the critics. The Bioscope called it "the most magnificent British film ever made," and Hitchcock got another boost at the premiere as an elaborate montage (the piano playing sequence) garnered a round of applause. British International Pictures may not have ended up with a box office winner, but The Ring left no doubt they did have a great director.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: John Maxwell
Screenplay: Alfred Hitchcock
Cinematography: John J. Cox
Art Direction: C.W. Arnold
Cast: Carl Brisson ('One Round' Jack Sander), Lillian Hall-Davis (Mabel), Ian Hunter (Bob Corby), Gordon Harker (Jack's trainer), Forrester Harvey (James Ware), Harry Terry (the Showman).
by Brian Cady