In the movies. What happens? Life is lived for us. We live vicariously. And so, does this art/entertainment mirror life? Yes and no. It is a continuum.
With Alfred Hitchcock we know to expect the unexpected. His career was built on bold stories and breakthrough storytelling. Yet, this is a silent film. 1927. Early Hitchcock.
This was not the mature filmmaker who would subvert expectations to thrill audiences by sneaking up on them. This is a much more traditional film.
Indeed, it is (believe it or not) a sports film. The sport? Boxing. Hence the title. But Hitchcock was ever the astute bringer of details so we might well expect that the title will have, at the least, a double meaning.
What is truly Hitchcockean is the psychological thriller aspect of this film. This is mostly embodied in the character of “One Round” Jack Sanders (Carl Brisson).
The plot then is driven by motives of redemption, revenge (of a sort), and vindication. It would make sense that a sporting story should have as its ostensible goal a victory for the hero.
It should be noted that, despite the relatively mundane silent film trappings, this is actually an incredibly odd story. The elevator pitch would go something like this…boxer’s wife obsessed with another boxer. Yes, obsessed. Like, pictures on the piano…staring dreamily at glossy portraits. A very weird premise. You’ll have to see the film to know just how Lillian Hall-Davis becomes enthralled with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter). It should also be noted that Hitchcock (or some clueless front-office dork) managed to credit Lillian Hall-Davis as playing the character of (wait for it) Lillian Hall-Davis.
It is a weird birth-of-film aspect. In fact, the copy of the film I have is off center to the left…such that the character names at the beginning of the film (not what we are used to nowadays with end credits) are cut off by the encroaching margin of a misaligned aspect ratio. But the point is that when Ms. Hall-Davis makes her entrance in the film, there is an intertitle (and it was this to which I referred) which explicitly says “The Girl” and lower “Lillian Hall-Davis.” It is as if Brecht (or Artaud) somehow got a hold of the film and decided to engage in a bit of narrative fuckery.
As for Ian Hunter (who actually has a full character name: Bob Corby), we must remember the date (1927) and do our best to put Mott the Hoople out of our heads. Likewise, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention the immense talents of Gordon Harker (who plays Jack’s trainer).
While this film seems hundred of years removed from North by Northwest (for example), it is another integral glimpse into the mind of perhaps the greatest director of them all.