A dancer at a music hall, Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli, The Shock), meets a 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 lives hit rock bottom.
Reaction & Thoughts:
The Pleasure Garden entered the history books as Alfred Hitchcock’s very first theatrical film. This wasn’t The Master of Suspense’s first rodeo, though. Three years earlier, Hitchcock directed fragments of a movie — tentatively titled Mrs. Peabody — that, unfortunately, was never finished and likely to be lost forever.
Produced by Michael Balcon and Erich Pommer and based on Oliver Sandys’s novel of the same name, The Pleasure Garden isn’t some buried treasure, but I liked it a lot– this fine silent movie is filled with intriguing oddities and introduces many things that are now closely associated with Hitchcock.
Above all, The Pleasure Garden allows viewers to see the big impact German expressionism had on Hitchcock, something you can see clearly throughout the whole movie. “I acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios (located in Berlin),” Hitchcock said years later. The fact that the film was shot outside England only reinforces its mid-European flavor.
The Pleasure Garden wasn’t a happy experience for Hitchcock. The production was plagued with numerous problems and the director learned as he went along, often relying on the expertise of his assistant, Alma Reville, Hitch’s future wife. Alma guided Hitchcock through the shooting, the beginning of an amazingly productive team collaboration. It’s been said that Hitchcock never did anything without Alma’s approval, and if that is true, she was the unsung hero of the director’s 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, all fascinating elements that will reappear in subsequent films. There is even a brutal murder near the end of the movie. It’s incredible that Hitchcock 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.