#53 in my Ranking of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
Without the Alfred Hitchcock connection, this 1925 silent film is an unfocused and rather stilted melodrama that plays with little success. With the Alfred Hitchcock connection it is still all of those things, but it is also the very first film by one of cinema’s great masters of suspense. It just doesn’t feel like he made it.
A young girl, Jill, moves to London to be a dancer. Without any formal training, she tries out for a theater and immediately gets the job, negotiating a rate of pay four times higher than what the theater manager first offers her based purely on her skill. She, though, is not the main character. That would be Patsy, another girl who dances in the theater and allows Jill to move into her small apartment.
Jill becomes a huge success very quickly and leaves behind everyone she knew. Patsy becomes a second thought while Jill’s fiancé, Hugh, gets tossed aside for a man called The Prince about whom Patsy says isn’t a real prince, but nothing comes of this assertion. Patsy, afraid for Jill and Hugh, grows close with Hugh’s friend, Levet, who is visiting along with Hugh from their post in a tropical location. For reasons, Patsy falls in love with Levet and marries him really quickly. They then go on a honeymoon to Italy where Levet makes it obvious that he really has no affection for Patsy and can’t wait to get away from her and return to his post in the tropics where he can’t bring a wife.
He has a girl there and immediately falls into her arms when he gets back while Patsy returns to work at the theater and plays the part of dutiful wife, hoping for a letter from her husband. She ends up reading his first letter to her after some months as a plea for her to join him due to illness though it was, in point of fact, really just an excuse on his part to stay away. Patsy runs to Jill, begging for money to go, but Jill won’t give her anything though Patsy’s delightful landlord and landlady offer her money for her to go. In the tropics, Patsy learns the truth of Levet’s infidelity and general awfulness while also finding Hugh convalescing and in serious danger of dying from some disease. Shots are fired, swords are swung, and Patsy finds herself free from marriage and in Hugh’s arms.
The weird part of this whole thing is that bulk of story all happens in about 60 minutes. It’s a short feature length film, and that’s a lot of characters and story to fit in there. What ends up happening is that it gets confusing to keep Jill and Patsy straight when they’re in a scene together because they look almost exactly alike. It’s not filmed as flatly as some other low-cost silent films that set a camera on a tripod and filmed everything from afar (there are multiple setups within scenes like a real movie here), but it’s all rather unenergetically done. There are hints of the strong visualist Hitchcock was to become, but it’s rather subdued here.
A more focused story, tighter filmmaking, and differentiating the two female leads could have led to a better film going experience. As it is, The Pleasure Garden represents a curio kept alive purely by the fact that its director went on to make great films.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1/4