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The Times (22/Nov/1927) - Entertainments

(c) The Times (22/Nov/1927)





There are passages in his present work in which Mr. Hitchcock seems to have been guided by a genuine determination to use the films as a medium distinct from the theatre. This is not simply a matter, as the heathen say, of "seeing a story, not in words, but in pictures"; it is that, but it is more. It means, among much else, that the director of a film has deliberately chosen for treatment those aspects of emotion -- for example, the composite emotion of a crowd -- which the screen is peculiarly fitted to express, and has deliberately excluded those aspects which words might instantly make clear but which cannot be approached in a film without danger of crudity and false emphasis. What is required is a new selectiveness by a man who, eager to experiment in what seems to him to be potentially a new art, is not arrogant enough to suppose that all arts are comprehended in his own. We shall discover the merits and scope of cinematography only when we have first recognized its limitations.

Mr. Hitchcock is as yet very far from recognizing its limitations, and there are, in consequence, scenes in The Ring which a more discreet director would have refused to touch ; but he does show again and again that he is aware of the opportunities which cinematography offers, and he uses them with skill and judgment. The story he has to tell is of two professional boxers, One-Round Jack and Bill Corby, of whom one is an ambitious sparring-partner and the other a heavyweight champion. The champion lays siege to his sparring-partner's wife, who seems to be in danger of yielding to him for no more charming reason than that he is a champion. One-Round Jack thereupon realizes that what is expected of him is that he shall himself rise to championship rank and fight for his woman. Why he thought it worth while, Heaven knows ; though she is our heroine, the lady seems to be an avaricious and silly minx from whose erratic affections a man might well have been glad to be free. However, a "fight for a woman" was considered necessary, and One-Round Jack obligingly went into training for a grand climax at the Albert Hall.

So far as its personal emotion is concerned, it is a rough tale, and Mr. Hitchcock would have been well advised to avoid emphasis on this aspect of it. It is hard to be deeply interested by this woman's elaborate kisses or by the encouragement she tardily brings in the Albert Hall to the husband she has despised. Nor is it very amusing to observe the ceremony of her marriage, at which a farcical verger and a best man who loses the ring are no compensation for what, unless the speed of exhibition deceived us, are two misquotations from the form of the Prayer-book. "For better or for worse" and "till death do us part" are unprofitable amendments by a writer of captions. Why Mr. Hitchcock permitted these scenes, which are a return to ancient crudities, it is not easy to tell, for they are neither good in themselves nor suited to his medium.

When he is using the cinematograph for what it is honestly worth, he uses it well. The opening scenes at a fair are remarkable for variety in photographic angle and for imaginative use of light; an effect of collective excitement and jollity is achieved decoratively and without strain. The general movement of the tale of rivalry between two boxers is swift and clear, and, if we can forget the weakness of the feminine motive, the acting of Mr. Carl Brisson, Mr. Ian Hunter, and Miss Lilian Hall Davis seems admirable in its restraint.

Mr. Hunter particularly distinguishes himself by a leisurely and refreshingly unemphatic treatment of the seducer, and there is a sketch by Mr. Gordon Harker of which the rich humour springs naturally from character. And the final contest at the Albert Hall is, apart from the woman's intervention, a brilliant scene. It might so easily have been no more than two boxers and a crowd. Mr. Hitchcock has discovered its emotion in a thousand ingenious details -- in the changing faces of seconds and onlookers, in a brief vision of the lights as they might appear to a man staggering under a blow, in momentary glimpses of the boxers themselves. The film as a whole marks a considerable technical advance. At its best, it is good indeed. It fails only where the substance of its story fails and where it has not been selective enough in its choice of cinematographic scene.