...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The George Herman Hitchcock project, Chapter 2B: The Ring


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2A:

continuing from Chapter 2A...

The Ring (1928)

After Downhill and Easy Virtue, Hitchcock directed another drama, The Ring.  Sadly it has nothing to do with the future horror series or vice versa.  It's a love-triangle tale about two boxers (wait, there's more!) and a woman.

Not much happens over the 89 minute cut, goodness knows how the 116 minute UK cut played out.  The events are simple.  Jack is a local boxer who fights in front of small crowds (think Rocky Balboa as a carnival attraction).  Nellie's his girl.  Bob is a world-class boxer who has a crush on Nellie.  He fights Jack and defeats him.  He hires Jack to spar with him, but really just wants to get his gloves on Nellie.  Jack and Nellie get married, but when their marriage goes sour she runs off with Bob.  Jack gets back at Bob by fighting him at Albert Hall.  During the match Nellie sees Jack getting his butt kicked, so she goes back to his side of the ring.  Jack is instantly Popeye-ed and defeats Bob.

It's edited at a good pace, but not much seems to happen.  There are no surprises or twists.  The knockout at the end doesn't make any sense.  There's a quick final scene that at best is unnecessary and at worst deflates whatever emotional/sexual tension that had existed in the film.  The long shots of the boxing matches look great, but then Hitch intercuts awkward melodramatic close-ups that don't match the action.

On the positive side, there are a lot of great double-exposure shots.  Plus there's a fantastic time-lapse shot of champagne going flat.  It not only serves to telescope time, but also serves as a metaphor for the moment when the marriage goes flat.

The male leads seem to have gotten their direction switched.  Jack is whiny, spastic, and vengeful while Bob is calm and friendly.  Nellie on the other hand is another example of an early-Hitchcock flirty destructive coquette.  She's eyeballing Bob from the first moment, but marries Jack anyway, then leaves him for Bob.  It's unclear what her character's values or intentions are other than to be a jerk.  This in turn makes it even more challenging for the viewer to care what happens next.

So what I'm saying is:  Where are the thrills, Alfred?

The Farmer's Wife (1928)

The thrills are not here.

The Farmer's Wife is, I think, a comedy.  I don't know.  I couldn't finish it.

It starts off looking like a drama.  An idyllic farm.  The farmer's wife has died.  As the farmer sits in his chair staring off into space, Hitchcock lingers on his face.  Over and over and over.  I began to wonder if this was going to be some sort of awesome Scandinavian-style film about a man pondering existence.  But, nope, suddenly it's a comedy!  Whee!  Thirza Tapper, Churdles Ash, and Dick Cooker (actual character names) run around the house mugging and hamming and falling down.  The farmer is pushed to find a new bride, so he invites over All the Single Ladies for a party at which point they all make F*** Me eyes at him.  But when he later professes his humble marital hopes, they're all offended.  He then responds by making fun of how old, fat, and ugly they are.

I fell asleep right there, 40 minutes in.  I was irritated about how this was beginning turn into a proto-Sandler film: "You're fat and ugly.  Wackety Shmackety!  Oh no, my pants are falling down!"  I was disappointed in the abrupt tonal changes.  The ending was as obvious as a turd in the pool.  And the poorly chosen film score was lulling, sleepy sleepy sleepy.

When I woke up and saw the DVD sitting there, I went back to sleep.

I understand the class themes that are confronted when he ultimately marries his housekeeper, but that doesn't negate the fact that the rest of the hired help act like they're mentally disabled.  Add to that my disappointment that Alfred Hitchcock was responsible------

It's amongst the five worst silent films that I've ever seen.  It's even worse than all of the films starring this guy:

Hitchcock achieved a certain level of attention with the artistic and financial success of The Lodger, yet followed it with four films fully outside that thriller genre.  None of them lost money, but none of them garnered any attention.  One can applaud him for the efforts, his attempts to expand his craft.  But as a viewer, one yearns to see him take on a subject ripe for suspense, twists, and the macabre.  Would such a film be on the horizon?

Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side Of Genius: The Life Of Alfred Hitchcock. De Capo Press, New York. 1999.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, Paris. 1984.


Source: Major League Baseball

As Hitchcock was experiencing moderate box office success, while treading water (at best) artistically, after his initial successes, Ruth erupted onto the baseball scene, albeit differently than what would later make him famous.

Ruth was the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball in 1916.  It really did happen that quickly.  While Grover Cleveland Alexander was decimating the NL, Ruth and Walter Johnson were nautical leagues ahead of every other pitcher in the AL.

Ruth was first in ERA, first in Opponent Batting Average, first in shutouts, and third in strikeouts.  In advanced stats, he was first in Advanced ERA+ and led pitchers in Wins Above Replacement.  This wasn't due to a small statistical sample size since he led the league in games started and was third in innings pitched.

He also won his very first World Series ring as the Red Sox beat the Brooklyn Robins four games to one.  In Game Two, Ruth pitched a 14-inning complete game, a World Series record that still stands today.  Ruth's only weakness was his lack of control.  Like everything else about him, Ruth's fastball was big.  Though he'd learned to mix in an off-speed pitch from time to time, batters were tied up by the erratic hammer.

Walter Johnson was the best pitcher of the decade and has been considered by many to be the greatest of all time.  Johnson's only weakness in 1916 was Babe Ruth.  They faced each other five times, Ruth went 5-0.  Ruth actually won six in a row against The Big Train, something no other pitcher ever accomplished.

Johnson and Ruth each allowed zero home runs for the entire season.  Meanwhile, Ruth's crowd-silencing home run feats from the previous season didn't repeat in 1916.  He did hit three home runs, which was tied for the best on the team (even though he played in only 43% of their games).  But all of his batting statistics dropped off.

His focus was on his pitching (and hookers and blended whiskey, but I digress) which now garnered attention and provided his first championship ring.  Like Hitchcock, Ruth was succeeding outside what had first caught him high regard.  But while Ruth's acclaim was much larger much quicker, Hitch would venture back to his bailiwick sooner......in Chapter 3: Champagne.

Creamer, Robert. Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. Simon & Schuster, New York. 1974.
Jenkinson, Bill. Baseball's Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run Hitters. Lyons Press. 2010.
Jenkinson, Bill. The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs: Recrowning Baseball's Greatest Slugger. Carrol & Graf. 2007.
Montville, Leigh. The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Broadway Books, New York. 2006.