Susan King 11/25/2012

Alfred Hitchcock's restored silent film 'The Ring' screens at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

With his acute sense of irony and the macabre, Alfred Hitchcock would appreciate the fact that he's one of the hottest directors in the world even though he's been dead for 32 years.

Fans and critics have always been fascinated with the Master of Suspense, who directed such seminal films as 1940's "Rebecca," 1945's "Spellbound," 1946's "Notorious," 1954's "Rear Window," 1960's "Psycho" and 1963's "The Birds." But 2012 has been an exceptional year in the Hitchcock legacy.

For decades, the British Film Institute's periodical Sight and Sound's poll of critics named Orson Welles' 1941 masterwork "Citizen Kane" the best movie ever made. Then this summer, Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller "Vertigo" nudged "Kane" out of the top spot.

He's also the subject of two movies — HBO's "The Girl," which premiered in October, examining his Svengali relationship with actress Tippi Hedren during the making of "The Birds," and the just-released feature "Hitchcock," which chronicles the production of "Psycho" and his marriage to screenwriter Alma Reville.

Even before this recent hoopla, the British Film Institute unveiled its restoration of the 1927 Hitchcock silent film "The Ring" at the Cannes Film Festival in May "where it was received incredibly well," said Ellen Harrington, programmer at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The restored "The Ring" will have its U.S. premiere Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The digital presentation will feature a new score by British jazz and hip-hop musician Soweto Kinch and the Soweto Kinch Septet which was composed and performed for the film's screening this summer at the London 2012 Festival. The film is part of the BFI's "Rescue the Hitchcock 9" project to digitally restore the nine surviving Hitchcock silent movies.

"It's probably the most extensive program that we have done," said Robin Baker, head curator of the BFI National Archive.

The only one missing from the list is 1926's "The Mountain Eagle," a melodrama Hitchcock later disparaged. "It seems to have been lost since the late 1920s," said Baker.

The BFI had received the original nitrate negative of "The Ring" in 1959. "When it came to us, it wasn't in great condition," said Baker. When the BFI made a copy of the damaged negative, all the inherent problems in the original were printed in the copy.

To make matters worse, the copying process "wasn't done as well it could have been. There were all kinds of blurring within the image in how it was printed. So we had real problems," Baker noted. "What we have managed to do in terms of stabilizing the picture, I still can't believe it."

Hitchcock scored a huge hit in 1927 with "The Lodger," an evocative thriller about a serial killer terrorizing women in London, where he began work on "The Ring." "The Ring" though is not a suspense thriller, but a melodrama about two boxers who are in love with the same woman. It is the only one of Hitchcock's films on which he has sole writing credit.

Carl Brisson stars as "One Round" Jack, a boxer working in a carnival show who loses a bout to Australian champion Bob Corby (Ian Hunter). Jack also finds himself losing his girlfriend Mabel (Lillian Hall-Davis) to Bob. Though not the archetype "Hitchcock blond," Mabel is a coolly manipulative woman who doesn't hide her flirtations with Bob from Jack even after they marry.

"He was legitimately fascinated with boxing in his personal life," said Harrington. "There was a famous boxer named Albert Hall who appears in the film. Hitchcock had gone to see his championship bouts."

Though there are many sophisticated visual touches in the film — Hitchcock would return to the carnival milieu in 1942's "Saboteur" and 1951's "Strangers on a Train" — "it's very much not a Hitchcock movie," said UCLA Film and Television archive head Jan-Christopher Horak, who described it as an "English film melodrama."

"In other words, it is one of those films like his 'The Farmer's Wife,' which is made right around the same time," Horak said. "It is cut together well, the acting is fine, but it has not what we consider Hitchcock in terms of his themes and obsessions. I don't think he had found his voice yet."

Principal restoration funding provided by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and The Film Foundation. Additional funding provided by Deluxe 142 and The Mohamed S. Farsi Foundation.

Los Angeles Times

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