Pleasure Garden, The (1925)–Hitchcock’s Debut, Set in London’s Theatre World

At the young age of 25, Alfred Hitchcock made his feature directorial debut in the German-British co-production, The Pleasure Garden.

Producer Michael Balcon assigned Hitchcock as director, when Graham Cutts, an executive at Gainsborough Pictures, refused to let him work on “The Rat.”

Loosely based on Oliver Sandy’s novel, the tale is set in London’s theater world, 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– and appearances versus reality. (Prime example is the 1950 suspense melodrama, “Stage Fright”).

The two women represent different 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 settles down.

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, Patsy 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).

The psychotic and alcoholic Levett, driven mad by the treacherous native, kills her and tries to murder Patsy. However, as 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.

Last Reel:

When Patsy’s husband gets sick, she is determined to go to take care of him. She asks Jill to lend her money the fare, but Jill refuses. Patsy then borrows the fare from her landlords Mr and Mrs Sidey. When she arrives at her husband’s bungalow, she realizes he is having an affair with a local woman. Levet tries to drive the woman away but when she refuses to leave him, follows her into the sea and drowns her.

Patsy agrees to follow Levet back to his bungalow in order to save Hugh. During the night, Levet is stricken with guilt and paranoia over the murder of his mistress and begins seeing ghostly visions of her.

Levet believes that the ghost of his mistress will continue to haunt him–unless and until he murders Patsy too. Levet corners Patsy with a sword but he is shot dead before he can kill her. Hugh and Patsy find consolation with each other and return to London.

Shot on a very small budget, this silent film is mediocre, but it reveals a lot about the motifs and concerns of Hitchcock, as would be 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 a typical Hitchcock picture.  Hitchocok himself had described the film as the work of an amateur, made during an apprenticeship.

Even so, 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 the Oscar-winning “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.  Encouraging voyeurism, 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 some humorous and satirical touches.  As such, it reflects Hitchcock’s distinctive sensibility, which will become more evident in his sound films, combining the conventions of the suspense thriller genre with those of the  comedy of manners.

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The film was shot in Italy (Alassio, Genoa, Lake Como) and Germany.  When lenser Gaetano Ventimiglia, failed to hide the film from the Italian customs, the team had to pay fines and buy new film.

It’s the only Hitchcock British film, in which both lead actresses, Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty, were American.

The film was shot in 1925, but it was not officially released in the U.K. until January 1927, just before Hitchcock’s third film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, became a hit in February 1927.

Cast
Virginia Valli as Patsy Brand
Carmelita Geraghty as Jill Cheyne
Miles Mander as Levet
John Stuart as Hugh Fielding
Ferdinand Martini as Mr. Sidey
Florence Helminger as Mrs. Sidey
Georg H. Schnell as Oscar Hamilton
Karl Falkenberg as Prince Ivan
Elizabeth Pappritz as Native Girl (uncredited)
Louis Brody as Plantation Manager (uncredited)

Motifs and Elements:

Theatrical setting

Romantic couples

Marriage

Credits

Running time: 75 Minutes.

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Eliot Stannard