Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Pleasure Garden

Title The Pleasure Garden
Year: Filmed in 1925, released in 1927 (after the success of The Lodger)
Studio: Gainsborough Pictures
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Source Material: From the novel by Oliver Sandys
Running Time: 1 hour
A Silent Picture in Black & White.

Saturday 22nd May, 1:30pm

With lunch over (Campbell's Tomato Soup - no sign of a pop artist anywhere), I drew the curtains in the lounge, made a mug of Yorkshire Gold tea and curled up on the settee wearing only a pair of Peter Alexander's Pyjamas (I hope he doesn't want them back) and a warm, comfy dressing gown. Fizzgig was curled up by my side.
I would dearly love to say I was armed with a packet of custard creams but due to my recent exercise regime and weight loss diet, I couldn't justify a biscuit crisis.
My Hitchcockian adventure began!

Patsy Brand - Virginia Valli
Jill Cheyne - Carmelita Geraghty
Mr Levet - Miles Mander (many sources misspell his name 'Levett', but I am going by the on-screen caption)
Hugh Fielding - John Stuart
Mr Hamilton - George Snell
Native (Levet's lover) - Nita Naldi
Mr Sider - Frederick Martini
Mrs Sider - Florence Helminger
Prince Ivan - C. Falkenburg

(I know I should try to remain fairly spoiler free, but in writing synopses for a film blog, it's rather difficult, so skip ahead if you don't want to know what happens.)
'The Pleasure Garden' is a theatre which presents revues for the public. It is run by a Mr Hamilton. We witness the girls performing their routine and the salivating men who watch in delight. One even visits backstage after the show to comment on how attractive he finds the girls' hair. Our heroine, Patsy Brand laughs as she proves it's merely a wig. (This is not the first time a Hitchcockian blonde turns out to be a fake!). That night, a girl named Jill Cheyne turns up having left her role as companion to an old lady in the country in order to find fame and fortune in London.
Moments before she enters the theatre, her money is stolen from her naively open handbag. Distressed by this cruel act, Patsy offers her home for Jill to stay at. They return to Patsy's accommodation where we meet the landlady, Mrs Sider, her hen-pecked husband and the resident dog 'Cuddles'.
That night, the girls get on famously and undress in a simply unladylike fashion before sharing the uncomfortable bed together. Jill has a photograph of her fiance, Hugh, in her suitcase. Patsy is surprised by Jill when she kneels down and prays at the bedside. This foreshadows a role-reversal later. Another piece of foreshadowing is when Cuddles nips Jill's toes...

The next day Jill arrives for a rehearsal at The Pleasure Garden and shows off her ability to Charleston. Mr Hamilton offers her five pounds a week, she refuses and asks for twenty. He laughs at her audacity and agrees.

Jill's fiance, Hugh, turns up at the apartment - Cuddles seems to love him - while Jill is out at a costume fitting. There is immediate chemistry between Hugh and Patsy but they keep themselves to themselves. Hugh explains that he has to go away for two years to a foreign plantation for his work. His intentions are to save enough money to one day return and marry Jill - meanwhile, Jill is flirting with Mr Hamilton and even implies that she would go further had she her own apartment to entertain guests!
Meanwhile, Hugh introduces his work colleague, Mr Levet, to Patsy.

One night, the two couples go out for dinner at a glitzy nightclub. Mr Hamilton is there and he introduces Prince Ivan to Jill. It appears he has admired her from the Royal box.
Hugh becomes a little jealous but Patsy consoles him by saying she'll keep an eye on her while he is away. Levet seems to be aware of Jill's fickle nature once he's danced with her.

Hugh goes overseas to the plantation and Jill's star begins to ascend. She finds her own apartment and leaves Patsy behind. Patsy tries to make Jill see sense and come down to Earth, but Jill is enjoying herself too much and has extravagant evenings with Prince Ivan. The two girls fall out.

Patsy shares her concerns with Levet (who still has a month before he returns to the plantation) and he makes a pass at her. They decide to make the most of the time they have together and get married(!)
Meanwhile, Jill is becoming quite a diva. She taunts Prince Ivan but then kicks him out. She's treating 'em mean to keep 'em keen.

On the day of the wedding, it's bucketing down with rain - maybe it's an omen.
Levet and Patsy honeymoon in Lake Como but it is evident that despite early days of breakfasts in bed and beautiful Italian scenery, their marriage is perhaps a little rushed. It is Patsy who prays now, for her marriage to be a happy one. In one telling moment, Patsy sees the truth when she notices that Levet has thrown away the rose she gave him. He tells her "it wilted".
When it is time to wave her husband off at the port, she desperately wants him to wave back, but he is already settling down on the deck of the boat, eyeing up another lady.
When he arrives at his destination, a native female awaits - his lover. She dotes on him like a slave upon a master.
Hugh asks Levet about Jill but learns about her engagement to Prince Ivan via a newspaper article - he is distraught!

Patsy is depressed back home having not heard from her husband for weeks. Eventually a letter arrives. Levet's excuse is a bad fever. He tries to ward her off by stating '...this is an unhealthy spot, and not very suitable for Europeans...'
However, his plan to keep her at bay fails and she decides she needs to go out there to see him.
Not being financially stable, she tries to ask Jill for some money - Jill refuses saying she needs all her money to marry the prince. Patsy plucks up the courage to ask about the engagement ring Hugh bought for Jill. Astonished at this audacious statement and bids her farewell.
Patsy returns home in tears. Her landlords understand her plight and kindly offer her their savings.

Eventually, Patsy arrives at the plantation only to find her husband in a drunken, feverish state with the native woman in his arms. Appalled and distressed, she flees. Levet chases after her and struggles with her, but a powerful looking man arrives on horseback just in time. He takes Patsy away to another house where Hugh lies with a fever.
Levet is angry and blames his lover. He then drowns her in the ocean. Rather unfair.

Hugh is so feverish, he thinks Patsy is Jill and he kisses her. Levet catches them and becomes furious. Patsy agrees to go back with him, but upon their return to his hut, Levet is delirious and haunted by the ghost of his lover, triggered by the booze, fever and guilt, one can only imagine. He believes the ghost is telling him to kill Patsy with a sword. He chases after her and just as she cowers before him awaiting her demise, a shot rings out. Levet stands in shock as he notices the blood spill on his shirt, then he crumples to the floor. It is the same man who rescued Patsy before. He takes her back to Hugh.

Patsy feels the loss of her husband by death and her friend by fame, but Hugh comforts her saying she is the only woman for him and they return to her lodgings in Brixton, England.

They are welcomed back with open arms. It appears Patsy should have noticed the dog's intuition. He didn't like Jill or Levet, but never barked at Hugh - it seems he knew all along! Cuddles then chews through the wires of the Landlord's radio, giving comment on his opinion of the wireless.
The End.

Great lines
(Obviously, in these silent days, these are all captioned or onscreen in some form)
Prince Ivan to Jill; "It is a rare pleasure to watch you perform, and I intend to indulge myself often."
If this were a Carry On film, you can expect to hear a Kenneth Williams retort at this point.
Jill's bitchy letter to Patsy reads; " will realise that I couldn't stay in cheap lodgings now I am nearly a star."
Jill even goes so far as to say to Prince Ivan in front of Patsy; " of my casual friends from the chorus is trying to run my life!"

Firstly, may I say how I love the opening shot. A horde of chorus girls clattering down a spiral staircase. This is a superb image of 'beauty meets chaos'. Could it also represent a descent into bawdy mischief as happens to Jill and Levet?

This was Hitchcock's official directorial debut. He was granted the role by producer Michael Balcon. Hitchcock's assistant director was Alma Reville, the woman who not only became his wife, but who also would become a critical force in his career. (Behind every great man...)
Despite a troubled production including customs worries, theft and financial concerns (Hitch had to borrow money from the star, Valli!) the movie was a relative success.

There are a number of Hitchcock motifs making an early debut including his love of voyeurism, shadows, blondes and dogs.

I have watched The Pleasure Garden only twice in my life at this point, but I am bemused how a couple of other sources totally misunderstand the simple story. I guess the two lead characters look awfully similar, but I don't think that warrants such glaring errors in these other synopses. Even the blurb on the back of the DVD seems to be telling a completely different story!

My Verdict
Obviously, as an early piece, we are yet to witness the true genius of Hitchcock's mind - he was 25 years old when he directed The Pleasure Garden and he proves himself to be more than adept at telling a story. The plot is a basic melodrama highlighting the selfishness of humans when lured by temptation, be it sex or fame (or both!) but beneath the drama is a hint of hope and a dash of comedy.
The best is yet to come, but I still give this 6/10 for sheer bravado.

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