Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial debut, “The Pleasure Garden,” a silent feature released in 1926, portrays the stories of two chorus women who work in a famous London nightclub called The Pleasure Garden Theater. A recent restoration of the film by the British Film Institute (BFI) played at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, with accompaniment by Steven Horne on piano, accordion and flute. The Pleasure Garden is a backstage drama about what the characters are willing to do for success, and a portrait about the meaning of trust, integrity and honor among lovers.
Jill (Carmelita Geraghty) arrives in London with a letter of introduction for The Pleasure Garden Theater manager, but a purse snatcher grabs the letter and all of her money. She arrives at the theater empty-handed, but kind-hearted Patsy (Virginia Valli) offers to put her up in her apartment. The women seem to bond as Jill tells Patsy of her sweetheart back home. The fact that Jill’s London stay starts off with misfortune leads us to believe that she’ll continue to face diversity, but she soon lands a key part based on her dancing and meets the rich Prince Ivan (Karl Falkenberg). When Jill’s boyfriend John (Hugh Fielding) takes a work project in far-off Africa, Jill rides out her rising fame and fortune with the prince.
Patsy finds love when she meets and marries Levett (Miles Mander), John’s colleague who accompanies John to Africa. Before he leaves, Patsy and Levett enjoy a month-long honeymoon in Liguria, Italy. The use of the actual location surprised me until I realized that Hitchcock filmed all of this production in Germany and Italy. Hitchcock uses locations wonderfully throughout his career, and Liguria gives us a nice break from the music hall and drawing room scenes earlier in the picture. Later, Hitchcock provides some African scenes, which he probably shot in Germany. The atmosphere seems more like Bali than the South Seas, especially considering the most important female character there is wearing an “island girl” costume.
The Pleasure Garden rewards us with music hall scenes, a little back-stage intrigue, a visit to Italy, a German expressionist touch (via 2 German production companies) and a bit of foul play and suspense. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival, during their “Hitchcock 9” special event, played The Pleasure Garden as their penultimate screening (just before “The Lodger”). It shows all of Hitchcock’s familiar elements without confining itself to any particular genre. The “Hitchock 9” festival showed that Hitchcock could do it all.