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Pleasure Garden, The (1926)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Pleasure Garden, The (1926)
35mm, black and white, silent, 7058 feet
Presented byMichael Balcon
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
 Emelka Film
Adapted byEliot Stannard
From the book byOliver Sandys
Photography byGaetano Ventimiglia

Cast: Virginia Valli (Patsy Brand); Carmelita Geraghty (Jill Cheyne); Miles Mander (Levet); John Stuart (Hugh Fielding); Frederic K. Martini (Mr Sidey)

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The diverging lives of two dancers from The Pleasure Garden nightspot. Jill rises to the heights and leaves her humble friend Patsy and her fiancé behind. Meanwhile, the good-natured Patsy stumbles into marriage with the selfish, dangerous Levet.

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In early 1925, Alfred Hitchcock was engaged by Michael Balcon's fledgling Gainsborough Studios, where he was completing his third film as assistant to Gainsborough's star director, Graham Cutts. The ambitious Hitchcock - still only 25 - had, in three years, performed almost every role on the film set, and his tireless energy was breeding resentment in the older Cutts, who complained that his assistant was spreading himself too thinly. Balcon sensed it was time to give his protégé a chance to direct alone, and dispatched Hitchcock to Germany (his second visit in a little over a year) for his first assignment, The Pleasure Garden, adapted by Eliot Stannard from a now forgotten novel by Oliver Sandys.

Stannard would collaborate on all but one of Hitchcock's silent films, and his script included many of the elements that would preoccupy the director over the next half-century, including the theatre, voyeurism, murder and male violence against women. A striking opening features the chorus girls of the nightspot of the title descending a spiral staircase, with the camera fixed on their legs. We then observe them dancing, watched with evident glee by a largely male audience. One elderly man leers through opera glasses at his favourite girl, who is first flattered, then appalled, as she realises his attention is directed at her legs. This approach, forcing the audience to recognise its own voyeurism, was to become a distinguishing feature of Hitchcock's work.

Balcon gave Hitchcock a largely American cast, led by the Universal star Virginia Valli as the over-trusting Patsy. But Valli is upstaged by the Englishman Miles Mander as her malevolent and ultimately murderous husband, Levett.

In an unusual display of confidence for a first time director, Hitchcock included his own signature in the titles. It was an early sign of his high profile. "Actors come and actors go," Hitchcock told the Film Society in 1925, "but the name of the director should stay clearly in the mind of the audiences."

Completed in 1925, The Pleasure Garden was hated by Gainsborough's financier, C.M. Woolf, who, despite very favourable advance reviews, was convinced the film had no commercial appeal and held up its release until early 1927. The same fate awaited Hitchcock's next two films The Mountain Eagle (1925) and The Lodger (1926).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Opening sequence (4:14)
2. A proposal (3:29)
3. Farewell and welcome (1:52)
4. Drowning (0:56)
Production stills
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Reville, Alma (1899-1982)
Stannard, Eliot (1888-1944)
Silent Hitchcock