At the young age of 25, Alfred Hitchcock made his feature directorial debut in the German-British co-production, “The Pleasure Garden.”
Loosely based on the novel by Oliver Sandys, the tale is set in the theater, centering on two chorus girls, Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli) and Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty) at the Pleasure Garden Theater.
The theater as a major setting (or background) will feature prominently in Hitchcock’s work in the future, enabling him to explore the notions of role playing, on and off stage, appearances versus reality, villains as deceptively charming men, and so on. (Prime example is the 1950 drama, “Stage Fright”).
The two women represent different social types. The good and virtuous Patsy marries Levet (Miles Mander), the best friend of Jill's fiance Hugh Fielding (John Stuart). After the honeymoon, Levet leaves for a job in the tropics, promising to send for Patsy as soon as he's settled.
In London, Patsy discovers that Jill has been cheating on Fielding with other men. Jill’s theatrical career and social life have flourished and she is now the mistress of a dashing European playboy. Feeling secure, she deludes herself that it would never happen to her. She is therefore shocked to realize that, in her absence, her own husband, Levet, has betrayed her, with a native girl (Nita Naldi) in her absence.
The psychotic and alcoholic Levett, driven mad by the treacherous native, kills her and tries to murder Patsy, but, like in other Hitchcock films, she is rescued at the very last minute. Humiliated and tired, she returns to London, where she finally finds happiness with Jill's dejected man, Fielding.
Shot on a very mall budget, the silent film is mediocre, but it reveals a lot about the motifs and concerns of Hitchcock, as manifest in his future films.
Fans and scholars of Hitchcock are divided in their response to the movie. Some claim that its major flaw is that it not a vintage of typical Hitchcock picture. Hitchocok himself had described the film as the work of an amateur during an apprenticeship.
Even son, visually, the movie contains some striking images. Hitchcock has acknowledged the influence of German Expressionism on his style, singling out Fred W. Murnau (who was imported to Hollywood, where he made “Sunrise,” with Janet Gaynor). There’s heavy reliance on matching shots and parallel editing in the film’s contrast of the two women’s lifestyles.
The opening sequence, depicting chorus girls descending a circular iron staircase, is particularly impressive. Hitchcock then suts quickly to a male spectator in the audience who zeroes in on the dancers’ girls with his binoculars.
Though “The Pleasure Garden” is essentially a melodrama, it’s peppered sporadically with humorous and satirical touches, reflecting Hitchcock’s distinctive sensibility, which will become more manifest in his sound films that combine the genre of the suspense thriller with comedy of manners.
Running time: 75 Minutes.
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Eliot Stannard
Virginia Valli as Patsy Brand
Carmelita Geraghty as Jill Cheyne
C. Falkenburg as Prince Ivan
Florence Helminger as Mrs. Sidey
Miles Mander as Levett
Ferdinand Martini as Mr. Sidey