H9: The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Most readers will not have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s debut feature, The Pleasure Garden.  You will soon want to, if you love film and especially Hitchcock.  The prints that have circulated for years have been workable, at best.   Without exception, they are shoddy dupes from a well worn negative.  The print was most likely a 16mm reduction from the Raymond Rohauer Library.  These prints were for the cinema hardy to be sure–you have to really want to endure a film to sit through these dim strikes of what a director once intended.
About a decade ago, an excellent tinted print turned up in a collection at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  Reassessments of the film began as more scholars were able to get a proper look.
Now the British Film Institute is restoring what remains of the 35mm negatives/prints in their care as part of the Hitchcock 9 effort–the restoration and re-release theatrically of the 9 Hitchcock silent films that remain (one film, The Mountain Eagle, remains lost).
I’ve seen the workaday 16mm prints, and I’ve watched an excellent 35mm pring at the BFI in London.  The experience I long for is still to come–seeing this remarkably odd and passionate film in a theater with the magic of audience and full musical score.
The more I think about this wild first film of Hitchcock’s, the more I consider just how contemporary the director remains.  Alma Reville, who began the film as assistant director and ended the film as the director’s wife,  helped shape the screenplay with young fishmonger’s son from Leytonstone.
Hitchcock had only entered the fray of British filmmaking a year earlier as a title card designer.

Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville in a publicity still from the period

Hitchcock  helmed his first feature, with Alma at his sid, where she would remain for his entire career.  The film was shot in Germany at the famed Emelka Studios (MLK).  The German influence would be profound on Hitchcock.  Indeed the entire moment in his career was seminal:  all of the elements the represent HITCHCOCK came together here:  his strength and ability as a director, his principal creative partner, Alma and the stylisitc influence of the German filmmakers like Fritz Lang FW Murnau.

The film is hot melodrama about a chorus girl and her sexually waylaid Malay bound new husband.  There’s a love triangle, a murder (by drowning), a haunting, insanity–surrounded by the Hitchcock template of voyeourism and surreal sexuality.  Even without title cards, a smart Hitchcock viewer would identify the film as Hitch’s from the striking visuals that resonate throughout his film catalog.  Remix the above noted themes and you have Vertigo or Psycho.

Published by Dan Auiler

Film historian and the author of VERTIGO THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC, HITCHCOCK'S NOTEBOOKS, TASCHEN'S SOME LIKE IT HOT and JOIRNEY TO FILM THE MAKING OF COLD MOUNTAIN.

3 thoughts on “H9: The Pleasure Garden (1925)

  1. What a find! I have seen most of these on $3.99 EP-speed VHS cassettes found in the bargain bin. Obviously bad prints, most of them have been barely viewable, made worse by the generic video transfers.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: