The Pleasure Garden Review
Patsy Brand (Virginia Valli) works as a chorus girl at a music hall called The Pleasure Garden. She helps Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty) to find a job. Jill meets Hugh Fielding (John Stuart) and they become engaged. Meanwhile, Patsy has married Levett (Miles Mander). The two men leave for the English colonies in the tropics, and Jill starts to live the high life in her fiancé’s absence. Then Patsy hears that her husband is ill…
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in London in 1899, the son of a greengrocer. He developed an interest in the movies in his teens and in 1920 entered the industry as a title designer for Lasky. He became an assistant director and art director. Already his directing abilities were becoming obvious: some directors refused to work with him after he designed sets that could only be shot from one angle. After Lasky closed its British operations, Hitchcock began to work for Michael Balcon at Gainsborough Pictures, and soon was offered the chance to direct The Pleasure Garden, a German coproduction shot in UFA Studios in Berlin. He was all of twenty-five years old.
In plot terms, The Pleasure Garden is a creaky melodrama, but it has enough Hitchcock touches to make it worth seeing. It’s clearly the work of a confident young man showing what he can do: some prints (not the one used for this DVD) have him sign his own name as the directorial credit. Very early on, a prime Hitchcockian theme is touched upon, as a man in the audience spies on the chorus girls through his opera glasses. Apart from Balcon, other key collaborators include Eliot Stannard, who wrote or co-wrote eight of Hitchcock’s nine silent films, Baron Ventimiglia, who photographed the first three, and last but not least assistant director Alma Reville, younger than Hitchcock by just one day, also in charge of continuity. Hitchcock and Reville became engaged during the production of this film, and married shortly afterwards.
The Pleasure Garden was not a success, and was only released when The Lodger became a hit. Hitchcock considered the latter, his third feature, as his first real film, but as debuts go The Pleasure Garden is not without interest.
The Pleasure Garden is released as part of Network’s ten-disc Hitchcock: The British Years box set. It is not at present available separately. The DVD is single-layered and encoded for Regions 2 and 4.
Finding accurate information about the running times of silent films is a nightmare, because so much depends on the speed the film is played at: it was only when sound arrived that the speed of 24 frames per second was standardised. The BBFC records its original classification of The Pleasure Garden in 1926 at 83:20. The present DVD runs 60:26, but it is clearly playing at too fast a speed. I don’t know the intended speed of this film – it’s most likely either 16 or 18 frames per second – which would (in part) account for the great discrepancy in running time. A second factor is that two versions of this film exist, with different credits sequences and intertitles, each one with footage not present in the other version. The one used for this DVD is the copy held by the Rohauer Collection, which is tinted (generally, yellow for interiors and blue for exteriors). The other version is one used for European broadcast. For more information about the differences between the two, see this article. As Network have gone to the trouble of including two versions of The Lodger on that disc, maybe they could have done the same with this film.
The DVD transfer is at a ratio of 1.33:1 and not anamorphically-enhanced, which is exactly as you would expect. The print used has clearly seen better days, with rather heavy contrast, and plenty of scratches and speckles. This is no doubt down to the source material, and short of a major restoration job this is likely to be as good as it gets. The soundtrack is mono, and consists of a music score composed and performed by Lee Erwin, which sounds fine.
As with all the films in the set, The Pleasure Garden comes with a short introduction by Charles Barr (3:41) – nothing in-depth but succinct and doing a good job of placing this film in its context.
Given the short length of this film, Network have included a couple of Hitchcock interviews. These were done for the ITV series Cinema in 1966 and again in 1969. Unfortunately the programmes themselves do not survive. The 1966 material (40:47), in black and white, consists of rushes – including a couple of shots of the clapperboard – and includes material not included in the final broadcast. Hitchcock is a very interesting speaker, with a dry sense of humour, and this extra makes this disc essential for fans and completists. The 1969 material (7:48) is in colour, and consists of Hitchcock’s answers to questions which have since been junked. Although this footage is good to have, there’s nothing he says here which he didn’t three years earlier. The extras are completed by a self-navigating stills gallery, consisting of English and Italian poster designs and three stills, running 16 seconds.