Sunday, 4 July 2021

Alfred Hitchcock's THE PLEASURE GARDEN (Germany, 1926) - Ken Mogg unravels the joys of the Master's Debut Feature

Then we had several cognacs, and finally the two German girls got into bed.
  And the young girl in our party, who was a student, put on her glasses to make sure she wouldn’t miss anything.

-      Alfred Hitchcock

In Hitchcock’s British films, the convergence of sexuality and violent crime is [already] central …

-      Tom Ryall(1)


THE PLEASURE GARDEN IS notable for being both Hitchcock’s first feature and for its murder scene – and more.  The scene comes near the end, though for a little while it looks as if it may be followed by another, even more violent.  The killer, Levet(2) (Miles Mander), has gone mad after being found by his trusting young wife Patsy (Virginia Valli) in flagrante delecti with his native-girl mistress(3).  This scene is no more cursory than the murder scene, 25 years later, in Strangers on a Train, by which I mean that it is both carefully built up to and is not suddenly over.  Rather, it piles emotion on contrary emotion before its final, deathly pay-off.  We watch as the native girl appears to despair and wades out to sea (‘Oh no!’, we may hear ourselves say).  However, Levet plunges after her; when she becomes aware of his presence, she turns back to him gratefully (‘Oh good!’, we think).  But, next minute, she learns her mistake: he pushes her head firmly underwater and holds it there (‘Oh no!’).  At this point Hitchcock includes an underwater shot of her legs briefly threshing about (‘Oh no, no!’).  This is scarcely novice-filmmaking.(4)

Elizabeth Pappritz as the  native girl

Villains and victims

Levet’s character, that of the classic villain, is in keeping with the one in (Mrs) Oliver Sandys’s 1923 novel where he says: ‘Women were put into this world for us. There’s nothing in it.  P’raps I’ve never had a conscience.  Shouldn’t know what to do with it if I had’ (Chapter XLVII).  I’ll come back to the novel.  Hitchcock brings his own modifications and subtleties to it.  He carefully focusses on the two chorines, Patsy and Jill (Carmelita Geraghty), from the Pleasure Garden Theatre in London, and for a while we like them both equally – an early sign of Hitchcock’s even-handedness, as if he felt duty-bound to show people and things at their most favourable.  As we know, even his villains ‘have their reasons’ (if I may plagiarise a phrase of the always even-handed Jean Renoir). Levet finally feels guilt when found out.  In Jill’s case, we feel sorry for her from the moment when - a newcomer fresh up from the country - she is robbed of her purse outside the stage door before she has even gone inside to audition.  That blow may explain, and extenuate, some of her later hard-heartedness when it comes to advancing herself.  Fortunately for her, Patsy learns of her plight, and immediately takes the smiling Jill under her wing.  However, Hitchcock’s ambiguity is already present.            

Consider another early scene.  We see Patsy pay off the two girls’ taxi-driver.  Once inside, Jill shows her a photo of Hugh (John Stuart), her fiancé – and promptly yawns.  Soon the girls retire to bed.  So, is Jill’s yawn just from tiredness, or does it also betray how she is already becoming indifferent to Hugh, whom she will soon throw over in favour of several wealthy suitors who sense her availability?  (From early in Hitchcock’s career, he showed himself a master of over-determinings.)  As for the scene of the girls tumbling into Patsy’s bed, it starts with their haste to change into their night attire, and then – after Jill has said her prayers beside the bed – her instinctive hogging of the bed’s single pillow.  She now seems indifferent to others’ kindness!  But could the girls’ haste to go to bed be a sign of something else?  Apparently it may be.  (Note. I have seen two different prints of The Pleasure Garden.  Nonetheless, extra footage has emerged in a print recently compiled by the British Film Institute but not yet made available on DVD.(5))  Hitchcock has said that the scene of the girls in bed occurred to him after he had witnessed two German lesbians unabashedly doing their stuff in front of him and others – including a bespectacled young student who promptly ‘put on her glasses to make sure she wouldn’t miss anything’.  Reader, don’t you love that reference to the girl in spectacles?  She would return in later Hitchcock films, although – to be clear - not necessarily as played by Pat Hitchcock.  Such a character is in The Pleasure Garden itself, assisting the theatre’s manager, Hamilton (Georg Shnell) – who, though, seems to welcome the attentions of the company’s male couturier, to be mentioned further below.


The Pleasure Garden is a very sexy film, showing that Hitch was already fascinated by such matters and was prepared to lead us after him.  The chorus at the Pleasure Garden features a row of high-kicking girls who, at the start, come tripping down a narrow spiral staircase (above) – seemingly endlessly - as in a certain type of dream.  Then Hitchcock effectively shows us ourselves: in the front row of the audience sits a line of appreciative middle-aged male patrons, some with monocles or opera glasses – though a woman at the end of the row, not sharing ‘the male gaze’, is nodding off.  The theatre’s very name gives the idea (while no doubt being an ironic allusion to an earlier, biblical garden).  At one point during rehearsal, the cigar-wielding Hamilton comes onstage and roughly handles Patsy – just as if she were a chattel of his, which is probably how he does see his line of female beauties.  As noted, he may prefer the attentions of the male couturier whom we will see with an arm draped around Hamilton’s shoulder.  Levet, when we meet him, proves to have a roaming eye, and that even after he has married Patsy.  After a brief honeymoon at Lake Como, he goes off overseas for two years.  Their wedding, for him, seems to have been no more than one of convenience, a way to have some quick sex with Patsy after Hugh had introduced them.  (The naïve Hugh will himself be betrayed by the fortune-hunting Jill, their relationship a mirror reflection of Patsy’s with Levet.)  Even in small and seemingly incidental details – like Patsy’s kiss curl or the name of her dog, Cuddles – the matter of affection and intimacy is never far away.

There’s an extra scene (illustrated below) with the male couturier in the so-called Rohauer print in which Jill is handing him a wad of money to buy her trousseau before she marries a wealthy Russian prince.  (This scene comes straight after Jill has refused to help Patsy with her fare to rush to Levet, whom she believes ill.)  It’s a striking image.  The fellow is positively creepy, wringing his hands in anticipation, and one leg rubbing the other – he’s a regular Uriah Heep!  (Hitchcock had read several Dickens novels in school.)  So many of the film’s characters, excepting Patsy and Hugh, who will finally get together, are impostors or otherwise unpleasant – the alleged Russian prince is certainly a phoney.  However, two people who are good-hearted in word and deed are Patsy’s landlords, Mr and Mrs Sidey.  When Jill won’t help Patsy with her fare, Patsy must turn desperately to the Sideys, and they don’t let her down.  We see Mr Sidey climb on a chair to reach a biscuit tin stashed away on the topmost shelf of the kitchen sideboard.  Although he breaks a few plates, Mr Sidey manages to reach the tin and haul it down, and inside is the Sideys’ life savings.  Without a sign of reluctance, Sidey hands over the contents to Patsy.  

Pared-down details

It’s another mark of Hitchcock’s even-handedness: for every murderous Levet or selfish Jill there are good characters like Hugh or the Sideys. Incidentally, speaking of Dickens, George Orwell observed a trait of Dickens’s style: his fondness of ‘unnecessary detail’.  The cinema allowed Hitchcock to modify such a trait: rather than unnecessary detail, Hitchcock had an eye for the telling, pared-down detail, such as those two or three broken plates when an unsteady Sidey reaches for the biscuit tin high up on top of the sideboard.  I was reminded of the close-up in The Birds of broken cups hanging from hooks on another sideboard, signalling how a swarm of birds have invaded the house overnight.  (The house is that of Mrs Brenner’s neighbour.  She will shortly find him dead in his bedroom, his eyes pecked out.)

Mind, there are small discontinuities in The Pleasure Garden that seem to show the young director’s fallibility, and perhaps a haste to immediately start work on his next film, the now-disappeared The Mountain Eagle (also 1926)(6), lined up for him by his enthusiastic producer Michael Balcon.  (Perhaps only later would Hitch cultivate the meticulous attention to detail about which he justifiably prided himself.)  Some of these discontinuities may have been induced by careless cutting of the prints we now have by enterprising cinema managers who wanted to fit two features on a double-bill.  For example, Patsy and Jill’s taxi-driver disappears from the middle of the Sidey’s entrance hall, and is seen no more – then a clumsy cut shows Mrs Sidey ushering her husband out the door, as if he were the taxi-driver. But other seeming errors may have resulted from Hitchcock’s not yet being in full control.  Repeatedly, titles refer to Levet and Hugh going ‘out East’ (and indeed the second half of the novel is set in Burma), yet when Levet writes to his wife to tell her that he has arrived at his destination - ‘an unhealthy spot’ - the page is clearly headed ‘ N. West Africa’.  Hardly ‘out East’!  (The same letter reports that Levet is ‘down with fever’, hence a concerned Patsy’s rushing to join him.)


Jill toys with the phoney Russian prince (Karl Falkenberg)          


Still, there are already plenty of Hitchcock touches in The Pleasure Garden.  I think of a moment when Levet has set his intentions on marrying Patsy, and approaches her from behind in the street.  Just for a moment she is unaware of him.  We see Levet’s shadow loom on a wall, and then, next minute, he is tapping her on the shoulder.  The shadow contributes to our already dubious feelings about him.  I recall that Hitch would use a similar technique in Foreign Correspondent (1940) to characterise the duplicitous Fisher (Herbert Marshall) and to undercut his smooth exterior. I also note an observation by Henry K. Miller in ‘The Guardian’ (30 June, 2012) after he had seen the restored print: ‘Above all, the film has got its rhythm back.  Patsy and Levet’s picturesque but curdled honeymoon sequence, shot around Lake Como, plays as Hitchcock inferably intended: longish, slowish, and sad, standing out from the rest.  It is also in this section that the restored image comes into its own: almost unrecognisably cleaner, more detailed, pleasingly tinted and toned, and jerk-free.’  (Miller notes that the film’s intertitles – a Hitchcock specialty from his early training – significantly contribute to its rhythm.)(7)

Not to be mentioned...

Finally, I’d like to comment on the Oliver Sandys(8) novel. It is revealing of some attitudes in England between the Wars that tend not to be mentioned these days.  (To Hitchcock’s credit, they aren’t in the screenplay.)  First, there’s a note of anti-semitism.  Gaynor (= Patsy) says that she’s heard that Hamilton is ‘all things to all men and different to every woman.  First and foremost, he’s a Jew … out to make a profit on his grandmother if the chance [arises].’  (Chapter V) Equally,  there’s an advocacy of eugenics (or worse), as when Jerrie (= Jill) says: ‘I think something ought to be done in civilised countries … about putting away freaks and eyesores and maimed people, and – and nuisances.’ (Chapter VIII)  (Gaynor immediately protests at the extremeness of this view, although agreeing that ‘It would be nicer if there weren’t any freaks or deformities or ugly people born at all’, and adding, ‘Even a State or cold-blooded government doesn’t look at it in that light!’)  Not surprisingly, racism is also on view.  Gaynor admits, ‘I – I don’t like driving in a black man’s car, or even accepting his favours indirectly.’  (‘I’d rather walk’, she says.)  (Chapter XXXII)

Indirectly, Hitchcock may comment on this sort of thing when he ends his film with a shot of the innocuous Mr Sidey trying to tune his crystal radio.  Sidey seems distanced from such odious attitudes – although for that very reason he may still be culpable.  (In the 1940s Hitchcock would let drop his phrase about ‘the moron millions’.)                                



1. Tom Ryall, ‘Alfred Hitchcock & the British Cinema’ (1986)

2.  The novel spells his name as ‘Levett’.

3. The native girl seems to have been played by one Elizabeth Pappritz, a 19-year-old, whom Hitchcock liked to refer to as ‘my little German girl’.  The website Brenton Film – a pun,  since it is run by the knowledgeable Brent Reid – points out that Peter Noble’s claim in 1949 that the native girl is played by Nita Naldi (who would star in The Mountain Eagle) is mistaken: Naldi did not even arrive in Europe until two months after shooting of The Pleasure Garden had ended.   

4.  Hitchcock served his apprenticeship under director Graham Cutts – who reportedly grew increasingly jealous of Hitchcock’s talent.

5. Reportedly the new BFI print runs for an extra 20 minutes, after being transferred at 20fps.  The BFI is still trying to get finance to put a music track on this print before it is released on DVD.  I have worked from the oldBFI print (shown on Australian television) and from the print that was once distributed by Raymond Rohauer, which has some scenes not in my other print.

6.  What may be the fullest synopsis available of The Mountain Eagle is in my book, ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Story’ (2008), which I compiled from as many other plot summaries as I could find.

7.  Another comment on the film that I like is Dave Kehr’s in the ‘New York Times’ (19 June 2013) where he notes that Patsy, whom we first see onstage and from a distance wearing a blonde wig, ‘turns out to be not a remote, inaccessible erotic object but … an approachable, down-to-earth woman with dark hair (establishing a dichotomy that goes right down to Barbara Harris and Karen Black in Hitchcock’s final film, the 1976 Family Plot).’

8. Not the author’s real name (even with ‘Mrs’ added at the front), which was the much more feminine ‘Marguerite Florence Laura Jarvis’.  (Source: ‘Brenton Film’ – see footnote 3, above.)       


Editor's Note: This is the eleventh essay by Hitchcock scholar Ken Mogg to have been published on Film Alert 101.

The other essays can be found if you click on these links.

Under Capricorn 

The Man Who Knew Too Much


Vertigo's Cinema Sources

Hitchcock's Methods

I Confess

About the author

Ken Mogg has published widely on Hitchcock; his The Alfred Hitchcock Story(1999, revised 2008) covers every film 'in loving detail'  (Bill Krohn, Cahiers du Cinéma). His recent writing includes a chapter on Topaz and (the script of) The Short Night in Hitchcock and the Cold War (Pace University Press, 2018), a chapter on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in Children, Youth, and American Television (Routledge, 2018), a chapter on "Hitchcock's Literary Influences" for A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock(Wiley Blackwell 2011, pb 2014), and an essay on "The Cutting Room" in 39 Steps to the Genius of Alfred Hitchcock (BFI, 2012). Ken has also written "Psycho Considerations" (2020), on the hitchcockmaster website if you click here    

Ken Mogg's email address is

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.