mon 03/08/2020

The Hitchcock Players: Lillian Hall Davis, The Ring | reviews, news & interviews

The Hitchcock Players: Lillian Hall Davis, The Ring

The Hitchcock Players: Lillian Hall Davis, The Ring

The ill-fated star was allegedly Hitch's favourite leading lady in his late silent period

Tempted: Lillian Hall Davis as the fairground girl who longs for more in 'The Ring'BFI

Alfred Hitchcock’s atmospheric boxing silent The Ring pivots on the allure of WAG-dom, 1927-style, for Lillian Hall Davis’s Mabel. At the start, she is the ticket-seller for the fairgound booth in which her pugilist boyfriend, “One Round” Jack Sander (Carl Brisson), takes on all-comers. And one can tell by the way she chews gum that she’s bored.

When a fight manager pits the unrecognised Australian heavyweight champion Bob Corby (Ian Hunter) against Jack, to see if he’d be worth signing, Mabel is smitten by the smooth-talking hunk. Hall Davis’s amorous glances never suggest vulgarity, though Hitchcock relishes showing the squeeze of the bangle Bob secretly buys and pushes onto the flesh of her upper arm. With Mabel and Jack married (Hall Davis with Brisson, pictured below) and Jack hired as Bob’s sparring partner, she and the champ begin an affair; a party scene likens her carelessness to the wild shimmying of boxing groupies.

Jack’s devoted trainer (nose-picking comic relief Gordon Harker) and a trio of loyal pugs from the old days supplant Mabel for much of the second half, but she is subtle in her few scenes, even when distraught during the climactic final fight.

Hall-Davis (who’d since hyphenated her name for poshness) gave an equally unshowy performance as a demure, efficient housekeeper, who secretly loves her widower boss in Hitchcock’s 1928 The Farmer’s Wife.

Born a cabbie’s daughter in 1898, she entered films in 1917 and swiftly became a British leading lady, working also in France, Germany, and Italy – she was fourth-billed in the 1924 Quo Vadis? starring Emil Jannings. She was a natural, yet she could not make the transition to talkies, perhaps because of her Mile End accent, and by 1933 was being treated for neurasthenia. She slit her throat while attempting to gas herself that October, leaving behind an actor husband and a 14-year-old son. Her Hitchcock movies reveal what a talent she had been.

The Ring screens at BFI Southbank on 4 October. Watch an excerpt below

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