Director’s Spotlight: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden (1925)

The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Synopsis:

A dancer at a music hall, Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli, The Shock), meets penniless country girl, Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty, My Best Girl), and helps her land a job in the theater. In an ironic twist of fate, Jill rises to fame and fortune while Patsy’s personal (and professional) life hits rock bottom.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Master of Suspense’s very first theatrical film — three years earlier Alfred Hitchcock directed fragments of a movie (Mrs. Peabody) that, unfortunately, was never finished and likely to be lost forever.

The Pleasure Garden, adapted from a screenplay by Eliot Stannard, is nowhere near as good as Hitch’s more famous films, but I quite liked it — it’s filled with intriguing oddities and introduces many things that are now closely associated with the director. Most important is the impact 1920s German Expressionism had on Hitch, something you can see clearly throughout the whole movie. Hitchcock later said, “I acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios (located in Berlin).” The fact that the film was shot outside England only reinforces its mid-European flavor.

The production was plagued with numerous problems and Hitch learned as he went along, relaying mostly on the far more experienced Alma Reville, Hitch’s future wife, who at the time was working as his assistant. Alma guided Hitch through the shooting, the beginning of the amazing symbiotic relationship between the couple. It’s been said that Hitch never did anything without Alma’s approval and if that is true, she was the unsung hero of his long career.

It’s truly fascinating to see many of the director’s phobias and obsessions already in place this early in his career. Hitch’s fascination with voyeurism, the predilection for sexually ambiguous characters, life in showbiz, the juxtaposition of opposites, etc. — all captivating elements that will reappear in subsequent films. There is even a brutal murder near the end of the movie. It’s even more incredible that Hitch was able to infuse the movie with his eccentric personality because he was just a hired hand.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Pleasure Garden is the beginning of a great career and therefore essential viewing for Hitchcock’s fans. It’s also a pretty good silent melodrama that I feel very comfortable recommending to non-fans. B&W, 75 minutes, Not Rated.

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