Alfred Hitchcock’s first film as solo director (and the first film he was involved in to survive) is The Pleasure Garden, a typical melodrama where two hoofers discover and lose love. A major obstacle in watching this film is finding the BFI restored version which is full length, properly scored, and with the correct titles. Failing that, there are some dubious shortened versions on YouTube.
The BFI trailer contains the opening sequence, which is the best part of the film. The dancers coming down the spiral staircase is a pure Hitchcock moment, although their subsequent dance appears utterly bizarre, as if they are all drunk. Where the film sets up the future is in its depiction of the voyeuristic audience ogling the dancers’ legs…
The film is watchable, in part because of the two female leads, Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty, both star names of the period who didn’t survive the switch to talkies. They do manage to bring their characters alive and make them believable at the start. It is a reminder of what was lost when the talkies arrived. Unfortunately, the film gradually pushes the melodrama dial up to 11, with a pretty ludicrous ending delivering a bit of morality (the wages of sin are of course death). Valli, in particular, starts off as a street smart girl who can handle herself but becomes an increasingly weaker character as the film progresses.
It’s release was held up for two years as supposedly jealous coves tried to sabotage Hitchcock’s career by saying The Pleasure Garden was uncommercial. To be honest, it’s not great, they may have had a point.
Verdict: Would I watch again? Maybe after a stiff whiskey. Ot two.