– Summary –
Director : Alfred Hitchcock
Year Of Release : 1925
Principal Cast : Virginia Valli, Carmelita Geraghty, Miles Mander, John Stuart, Ferdinand Martini, Florence Helminger, Georg H Schnell, Karl Falkenberg.
Approx Running Time : 70 Minutes
Synopsis: Two women work at a London men’s revue show, known as The Pleasure Garden, as chorus girls, and the film tells of their various relationship troubles.
What we think : While the opening is fairly strong, and the promise of some minor titillation burns bright initially, The Pleasure Garden wanders into melodramatic overkill by its second half. The film clocks in at barely over an hour, but even that feels like its a drag, and although Hitchcock tries to give the film some visual style….. nothing. There’s nothing here worth noting. None of Hitch’s trademarks are present (although it must be said that the early Garden-set sequences do feel the strongest of the film, and most “Hitchcockian”) and the film feels labored by the close. Ultimately, a rather ho-hum affair.
The original Showgirls.
Hitchcock’s earliest available silent film, 1925’s The Pleasure Garden, was filmed in Italy and Germany with funding from Bavaria Films; Hitch felt he had more creative control on the continent, rather than endure the restrictive rules and regulations plaguing his craft back in London. While the film was released in Germany in 1925, it sat on the shelf in England until his runaway success, The Lodger, arrived in 1927, and then Garden found itself in release to capitalize on that success. While The Lodger went on to become one of the director’s most popular and enduring early films, The Pleasure Garden hasn’t been accorded the same measure of respect, a factor one could attribute largely to its enormously un-Hitchcockian style, and to this day remains a fairly bland, unexceptional piece of cinema. Considering the 12 months or so between releasing The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger, it’s hard to fathom how much more accomplished The Lodger actually is by comparison, inasmuch as it’s a film with so much more technical skill and visual prowess, a prowess that is largely absent in Garden’s melodramatic overtones.
What struck me most about The Pleasure Garden was the plot’s startling familiarity. In Garden’s opening third, we see Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty) arrive in London at the titular establishment, intent on snagging a role in the chorus line of the revue, frequented by plenty of willing (and monocled!) gentlemen. Bargaining her way onto the stage, she impresses the owner, Mr Hamilton (Georg Schnell), who agrees to pay her 25 pounds a week (quite a lot for 1925!). Fellow chorus girl Patsy (Virginia Valli) befriends Jill through her difficulties (she is robbed while in town and needs the job to pay her way), although tensions arise when Jill’s fiancee, Hugh (John Stuart), together with a colleague, Levet (Miles Mander) arrives and hits it off with Patsy. Meanwhile, Jill is pursued by a number of wealthy men, including one Prince Ivan (Karl Falkenberg), causing Hugh to become jealous. Hugh is sent to Africa by Prince Ivan, who is his employer, leaving Jill at the mercy of the men in London…..
Yep, it appears Joe Esterhauz snaffled the plot for Showgirls by watching The Pleasure Garden. Up and coming chorus girl wants to break into popular city attraction? Check. New girl threatens the status quo by attracting all the wrong men? Check. Men go crazy whenever they see the women’s bare legs? Check. C’mon, it’s the basis for Showgirls!! At least, mostly. The only thing missing from Garden is vast quantities of tits and the sight of Kyle MacLaughlan flapping about with Elizabeth Berkley in a pool, “simulating” intercourse. Yet, where Hitchcock lacks the ability to show actual tits on screen, he makes up for in keeping the pacing rattling along (mostly) and the “action” decidedly covered up.
Hitchcock makes the most of Garden’s delights initially, with a solid opening sequence involving Jill’s arrival at the revue, but by the time the plot moves to Africa (or wherever it’s supposed to be), the film became lost in its own superciliousness. That cliched rolling of eyes, flinging a hand to one’s forehead and sighing loudly, nearly fainting in amazement/disgust/horror, indeed every trope of “old Hollywood” is trotted out here over the course of the film, and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh mildly at the fun of it all or wish dearly that Hitch had maintained his course of bold, direct dramatic action – that’s how the film began, but it doesn’t end that way.
Parallels with Showgirls aside, The Pleasure Garden isn’t a terribly good film. It’s not bad, for a silent movie, and the joy of watching slightly sped-up people wandering about the screen never fails to elicit a smile (one wonders how the stars of these ancient films might view our modern-tech stuff?), but the story sways into parody most of the time (although it’s hard to counter the fact that its films like this that led to our ability to parody them) and drifts too often into vaudevillian farce. Absent much of Hitchcock’s later motifs and tones, and without a significant villain (at least not one without a sense of sympathy), The Pleasure Garden is tepidly pleasurable at best, and a crushing bore at worst. It’s little wonder the film sat on the shelf for a few years after it was made.