Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Ring (1927)

  • The Master of Suspense turns in a technical tour de force in this prize winning tale
  • Danish actor Carl Brisson, star of two Hitchcocks, suffers a hit in love in both rounds
  • Don’t watch the horde of badly beaten-up bootlegs: they’ll leave you punch drunk
  • This simple guide makes it easy to buy the best Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

This technically virtuosic and very entertaining made film is Hitch’s first to be based on an original screenplay. Much like fellow British wunderkind director Anthony Asquith’s Shooting Stars (1928), released just a few months later, the title of The Ring is a deliberate play on words, meant to be interpreted in several different ways. This tale of passion and betrayal concerns fairground folk who are as competitive outside ‘the ring’ as inside of it.

The Ring aka Der Weltmeister (The World Champion, 1927) German poster

The Ring aka Der Weltmeister (The World Champion) German poster

This is an accomplished work to be sure, but the plot itself is not a complex one. It’s primarily concerned with a straightforward, age-old love triangle. But it revolves around skewed gender politics, a real rarity for a Hitchcock film (ha – if only!), which ultimately keep it from being a contender for the uppermost ranks of the Master’s canon. The moral of this boxing ring-bound drama? Beat up the bloke making love to your missus and she’ll be so overcome with new-found respect, she’ll willingly submit to being dragged back to your cave by her hair.

To its further detriment it also jabs the viewer with the one-two punch of racism and sexism. The ‘N’ word is present and incorrect, accompanied by a suitably stereotyped black man. And the underwritten female lead is shallow, selfish and can’t seem to make her mind up what – or rather, whom  she wants almost from one scene to the next. Having said that though, this reflects just as badly on the men, particularly her husband, for putting up with her fickle ways. Just as in real life, except in extreme circumstances, people can only treat you the way you allow yourself to be treated.

Now, having said all that, The Ring still has more than enough to recommend it, and the good far outweighs the bad. The conniving wife, Lillian Hall-Davis (credited here as Lilian), went on to a much more sympathetic role in her next Hitchcock. There, her faithful though still-underwritten part is the quiet strength at the heart of the film. Meanwhile, Danish actor Carl Brisson, here putting in an excellent turn as the too-trusting doormat, appeared to be typecast by Hitch at least, as he played pretty much the same character in The Manxman. Show stealing support is provided by the constantly-mugging Gordon Harker in his first of four Hitchcocks, ahead of The Farmer’s WifeChampagne and Elstree Calling.

L-R Gordon Harker, Carl Brisson and Harry Terry in The Ring (1927, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

L-R Gordon Harker, Carl Brisson and Harry Terry

Onscreen love rat Ian Hunter, fresh from his stint as another adulterous cad in Downhill, was directed by Hitch in a total of three films. After this one he played another legal personage in Easy Virtue. He was also due to be directed by Hitch in a fourth, the ensemble wartime propaganda effort, Forever and a Day (1943), which featured an all star cast and crew. Hunter had a small part as a wealthy industrialist, but in the event, due to other commitments Hitch was unable to direct his own segment, which included several other notable luminaries of his films, and René Clair stood in for him. However, in the finished result Hitch and Charles Bennett, his frequent screenwriter, did receive a co-writing credit. The film is stuffed to the gills with famous British faces – and Buster Keaton! It’s worth watching for them alone. As with Millions Like Us, the other Hitch-related flag-waver released later that same year, Forever and a Day succeeds admirably nowadays as pure entertainment and I strongly recommend it.

US Image DVD | UK Simply Media DVD

The Ring is often described as Hitch’s only solo-written original screenplay, but this is extremely unlikely. As Charles Barr explains in English Hitchcock (1999), Eliot Stannard, the writer or co-writer of all Hitch’s other silents, almost certainly had a strong hand in it, as did Walter C. Mycroft. Hitch was notoriously mean when it came to crediting his many collaborators (something else he had in common with Chaplin), especially his writers, and many of the most notable ones actively protested their marginalisation during Hitch’s cultural rehabilitation in the 1960s. However, according to several biographers it seems he did at least privately acknowledge Stannard’s contribution to The Ring‘s screenplay.

Harry Terry and Lillian Hall-Davis in The Ring (1927, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Harry Terry and Lillian Hall-Davis: joy and pain

The Ring was restored in 2012, as part of the Hitchcock 9 project, and transferred at 20fps (108min). It first came out punching on 13 July 2012 at the Hackney Empire, London, tagged with a new jazz score by Soweto Kinch. Though the restoration is so far unreleased, Kinch and his fellow musicians also made a studio recording of their score which is already included on the current DCP, so it’s good to go for home video.

“The BFI National Archive received the original nitrate negative of The Ring from the Associated British Picture Corporation in 1959. The negative was already severely unstable and a new ‘fine grain’ positive was made immediately. The restoration team, working with Deluxe 142, scanned this element at 2K resolution, and careful grading and manual restoration work enabled the removal of many of the defects of definition, contrast and warping inherent in the fine grain (the original negative was no longer extant). The intertitles have been painstakingly reconstructed and an alphabet in the hand-crafted font of the original was created by scanning all the titles.” – BFI programme notes

Though unrestored, the previous transfer is still very solid and certainly won’t give any cause for complaint. It’s widely available on DVD and transferred at 24fps (90min), though the PAL discs have an additional 4% speed-up (86min). The US Lionsgate DVD has a slight edge in detail over all others, while the digital HD version is obviously the best of the lot. All releases bar the unique UK VHS feature a basic but very effective Xavier Berthelot piano score. Note that Kino in the US are soon releasing the film on BD and DVD.

Lillian Hall-Davis and Carl Brisson in The Ring (1927, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Staying in his corner: Lillian Hall-Davis and Carl Brisson

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For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.


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