Here we go, Hitchcock’s directorial debut. Very interested to know how it all began. Would it contain any of the Hitchcock signature moments or motifs that would become so prevalent in later movies? Would it, ultimately, be any good?
The answer I found was a pleasant surprise: ‘The Pleasure Garden’ (named after the nightclub the two leading ladies perform in) is a pretty pleasurable 60 minutes or so. The plot cracks along at a fair old pace and the ‘action’ (referred to as ‘melodramatic’ by Hitchcock) keeps coming, and serves to deliver a picture that is a very impressive debut.
There were, and this was a surprise to me, certain signature pieces that could be linked to Hitchcock’s later work: the use of a major star in a central role (Virginia Valli as Patsy Brand – Valli was a big name at the time, and it was a particular coup for producer Michael Balcon to bring her to England to star in the film) and various instances of male voyeurism (for example, there is a brief p.o.v. shot of one of the audience members raising his opera glasses to get a better view of the dancers’ legs).
Plus it was refreshingly ‘naughty’:
1. within the first couple of minutes, we see some happy looking guys enjoying the views of the female dancers – one fairly long tracking shot from left to right in the frame. Interestingly, when it gets to the end of the men, we briefly see a woman who seems to have fallen asleep at the proceedings.
An out of focus monocle is replaced by the aforementioned opera glasses moving up to camera – a really good effect, and very cinematic.
2. more leering men pop up by six minutes, in the theatre entrance as Patsy realises her cash has been stolen.
3. by 8 minutes, the girls are undressing – their clothes theatrically tossed on chairs (it’s a stripshow!)
4. by 10 minutes, Cuddles the dog’s bone that lies on the bed is sat upon by one of the girls – and then, while she is praying, the dog starts licking her feet (!)
5. then the girls jump into bed together and go to sleep. Right.
There are some beautiful compositions in the film – Patsy praying at the monument at Lake Como and, later, her nursing Hugh Fielding (John Stuart) in particular stand out and show that even at this early stage (Hitchcock was only 25 at the time) the director is keenly aware of the framing of his shots.
I also like the role of the dog, Cuddles: jealous as Levet (Miles Mander) makes a move on Patsy, barking as they kiss, happy at the end when Hugh and Patsy return home as a couple – it’s a neat little plot summary device and adds good running humour through the movie. ‘How do you like that, Cuddles knew all the time’ as the final line states.
The closing scenes are still (after 85 years or so) pretty full on: Levet murders his native lover by drowning and attempts to stab Patsy to death using a sword, after succumbing to full blown alcoholic mania and seeing hallucinations of the dead girl – eventually being shot and killed (painfully skinny Levet is too).
All this is fairly strong stuff and enjoyable to watch – I was surprised how far the film took the subject matter and how explicit it was (with the naïve notion that everyone in the 1920’s lived some kind of idealistic innocent existence). As examples, Jill becomes a kept woman at one point, the sugar daddy character Prince Ivan lavishing clothes on her and setting her up in a plush apartment – she, tempted by fame and money. Later, Jill spurns the Prince’s advances by burning him with her cigarette (!) and openly laughing at him as he leaves.
Meanwhile, on their honeymoon at Lake Como, Levet is already bored with Patsy: ‘You threw away the rose I gave you’, ‘Had to – it had wilted’.
He’s eyeing up a woman even while Patsy waves him goodbye on the ship, and her waving hand dissolves to that of the native girl welcoming Levet to the colonies. He’s a bit cartoon-ey in his unpleasantness but Miles Mander is pretty good so makes up for this with a strong performance, especially in the later tropical scenes in his alcoholic phase. I have to say, it felt a lot more modern than I expected.
Having watched many silent movies over the years, it’s good to see one that has a good pace of storytelling and uses captions in a fairly minimal manner, as well as a modern and fairly scandalous plot. The edict of using pictures to tell the story is well used in ‘The Pleasure Garden’.
The version I watched (on the UK Network label, released by Granada Ventures) was in the standard Academy ratio of 1.33:1. It featured some hand tinted scenes (sepia and blue) and it looked like the title cards had been replaced recently – they were too clean in comparison to the grain of the print used. There’s a mistake on the spelling of John Stuart’s name also – it’s correct on the sleeve artwork but spelt Stewart on the card (small quibble). Print is pretty grainy as you would expect – interesting to see how this fares in the restored version that is being prepared at the moment by the BFI. There is a short video intro from respected Hitchcock biographer Charles Barr – interesting but too short, and feels a little rushly recorded. Good that something like this would be included though, bespoke made for this release.
The colony where Hugh and Levet are based seems to be called Lakar, N. Westapicco (noted on Levet’s eventual letter to Patsy). Lakar seems to be a village in India, I can’t find any reference to N. Westapicco (any thoughts on this welcome).
The 1926 release date may vary by territory.
Just incidentally, the opening shot (tinted sepia) of the chorus girls running down the spiral staircase reminds me of Vicky Page’s rush to her death in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes’ (1948).
Powell would most probably have seen ‘The Pleasure Garden’ and, indeed, worked with Hitchcock as a stills photographer on ‘Blackmail’ three years later.