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The Pleasure Garden

Posted by keith1942 on June 22, 2013

Patst and an admirer!

Patst and an admirer!

This was Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature as a director. It was produced by Michael Balcon for Gainsborough but in conjunction with the German Emelka Productions and shot mainly in Munich. The script is by Eliot Stannard, a writer closely associated with early Hitchcock and an important contributor to British film. And Alma Reville [later Mrs Hitchcock] is credited as Assistant Director. The film only existed for a long while in two different but both truncated versions. Then in 2012 the British Film Institute produced a restored version. A number of missing scenes have been salvaged and integrated into the film, which now has a comprehensible narrative. The print also has some attractive tinted sequences.

The story centres on two London showgirls, Patsy (Virginia Valli) and Jill (Carmelita Geraghty). Patsy is the honest, hardworking and upright girl. Jill is on the make and uses other people for her own ends. Patsy calls her ‘a kept woman’ at one stage. At the start of the film Jill is engaged to Hugh (John Stuart) upright and staid. He has taken a post with a colonial plantation to earn money to marry. Through him Patsy meets another colonial staffer home on leave, Levet (Miles Mander). Hugh is the first to leave for his colonial employment, in West Africa. Levet marries Patsy and after the honeymoon in Italy also returns to his colonial work. He also returns to a native mistress (Nita Naldi).

The two other key characters are Patsy’s landlady and her husband, Mr and Mrs Sidey (Ferd. Martini and Florence Helminger). Mr Sidey is an amateur radio fan: at one point we see him with his crystal set and a rather early edition of the Radio Times.  In her flat in their house Patsy also keeps her pet mongrel-hound, Chum (Cuddles in one print). A rising star in the theatrical revues, Jill jilts Hugh for a rich prince: though she also manages an affair with he impresario and manager Oscar Hamilton (George Snell). And Patsy’s unexpected visit to the colony exposes Levet’s adultery. The way is now open for the plot to unite Patsy and Hugh.

It will be seen that the plot is fairly conventional, including quite stereotypical tropes and characters. Charles Barr suggests that Eliot Stannard’s script cut out ‘persistent elements of casual racism ..’. Some seems to remain as Patsy calls Levet ‘a filthy animal’ when she discovers him in the arms of the native girl. However, there are a lot of touches that would become familiar in Hitchcock’s work: one can speculate how much some of these may be due to either Stannard or Reville.

Predictably there is the sense of voyeurism. The opening sequence of the film shows a theatrical front row, almost all older men in dress suits, and many of them ogling the showgirls on display on stage. But Hitchcock also titillates the audience as at one point Patsy and Jill converse, but also change for bed. Then there is the dog. Cuddles makes instance friends with Hugh but barks angrily when Levet appears. In a familiar omen, Patsy and Levet’s wedding day is wet: added to which Cuddles in locked up downstairs and is howling. When Patsy finally finds the right man she tells Mrs Sidey, ‘Cuddles was right after all’.

Valli and Geraghty play the two showgirls in contrasting manners, emphasising the differences in conduct and behaviour. This is also true of the Stuart and Mander as the leading men. However, Miles Mander brings a particular dissolute quality to his playing, referencing other character cads in his earlier [and later] films. On three occasions he throws away a flower, a conventional gesture: including at one point a rose given him by Patsy. And he shows an aversion to both the martial state and in particular to children.

Patsy tending the sick Hugh.

Patsy tending the sick Hugh.

One particular motif in Hitchcock films is the absent hero. Late in the film Mander has disposed of the native girl but is haunted by her spectre. It drives him to attempt to murder Patsy. Crucially a shot is fired and we see a hand holding a revolver. However, it is not Hugh but one of his English colleagues, Carruthers. Hugh is laid low with a fever. In fact, Patsy has already had to nurse him; and in a delirium he mistakes her for Jill and attempts a kiss. Another conventional motif that signals the resolution of the film.

There are also recognisable traits in the style. Some of the characteristics are familiar tropes in German film: from which Hitchcock later observed he learnt much. There is an exterior street scene with Patsy and Levet, all shadows and rather expressionist. But there is also some judicious cutting, frequently between Patsy and Jill with their suitors. These provide ironic comment on the characters. And there is one fine crosscut of hands: the first Patsy waving Levet goodbye, the other the hand of the native girl waving a welcome.

The film shows a young and extremely promising talent. It also shows how Hitchcock from early on had a strong sense of what made the industry tick and how to please audiences.

Charles Barr discusses this film and the rest of Hitchcock’s UK output in English Hitchcock, A Movie Book 1999.

 I first saw the restored version from a DCP. But I have now seen the film on a pristine 35mm print at Il Cinema Ritrovato. What a shame the BFI does not seem to make this available for UK exhibition.

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