Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Pleasure Garden (1925)

  • The legend begins: spotlighting the Master’s first film, an early masterpiece
  • But it’s still largely unknown and yet to be released in its restored original version
  • All current home video versions are of battered, badly edited prints – but there’s exciting news ahead
  • It’s replete with all the trademark Hitchcockian flourishes he would later make world famous
  • Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT in the public domain but cheap bootlegs have flooded the market

As the BFI’s Hitchcock 9 press release noted, “Hitchcock’s first film as director demonstrates many of his obsessions from the first frame onwards – a cascade of chorus girls’ legs tripping down a spiral staircase. A melodrama complete with apparitions, exotic locations and a sojourn in Italy, this is also the first of Hitchcock’s many films about a woman marrying – to perilous effect – a man she doesn’t really know.”

“The fates of two chorus girls fall into sharp relief – Jill, the schemer, finds success, and Patsy, the good-hearted girl, is betrayed by her unscrupulous husband. Hitchcock’s confident filmmaking style is evident from the first frame, with a cascade of chorus girls’ legs tripping down a spiral staircase, but it is his ability to condense the story and then to weave in extra layers of meaning that is truly impressive… The Pleasure Garden is a treatise on voyeurism, sexual politics and the gap between romantic dreams and reality. Hitchcock uses the minor characters to comment on the principals, to contrast the behaviour of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters through the use of parallel action.”

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US one sheet poster

US one sheet poster


Contents


A neglected garden

Both literally and figuratively, Hitch opened his first film the way he would continue until his last: by placing his inimitable stamp all over it. On camera, he signed his own name in the credits – a bold statement of intent to be sure, but one that was entirely justified. In every sense, the Master blasted out of the gate at full throttle, but of all his works this is by far the most maligned, if not outright disregarded. And for good reason: the currently circulating copies are a pale imitation of the original film. They’re drastically edited, poor quality prints that are further compromised by having missing or rewritten intertitles and many of their remaining shots rearranged. Thankfully there’s an exquisite restoration that’s just begging to be released on home video, after having been screened numerous times internationally with live accompaniment. Simply put, The Pleasure Garden is a largely undiscovered masterpiece and if you haven’t yet seen the restored version, you really haven’t seen it at all.

Prior to the early 1960s, Hitch was routinely derided or at best dismissed by ‘serious’ critics as a technically accomplished director of populist films. Critic and filmmaker John Grierson’s infamous proclamation was typical: “Hitchcock is no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures.” All of that changed when Hitch began to be championed as an auteur par excellence by leading lights of the French New Wave and various other young critics and directors. The rest is history. However, his début offering has not been seen in anything like its original form since soon after its première. Hence it being completely, utterly overlooked throughout his critical re-evaluation and the ensuing seemingly infinite number of Hitch-related books, documentaries, film studies courses, etc. I could fill a book with woefully ill-informed quotes regarding the film; Every other reference to it, however fleeting, is negative. For instance:

“Improbably for a director who’s remembered for taut psychological thrillers such as Vertigo, his directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden, was a jolly romp about chorus girls.” – William Cook, The Guardian, 27 Feb 2009

What rot. Mr Cook is talking out of his hat and has clearly never seen the film, in any form. Hardly what you’d call cutting edge journalism. For the time being, you’ll have take it from me: The Pleasure Garden is as dark and shocking as anything Hitch ever  had a hand in; even more so when one considers when it was made. This unfair besmirching has also been exacerbated by the complete loss of his second feature, The Mountain Eagle. Here again, there’s nothing concrete to suggest it was anything less than as brilliant as his first. Until a copy of that film turns up, we go on waiting and hoping. Similarly with the many films that Hitch played an increasingly significant role in prior to The Pleasure Garden: the overwhelming majority are lost or unavailable. So you see, it’s much easier for his latterday commentators to dismiss this rich body of work and declare The Lodger as ground zero for the Master. Nearly every one of them has lazily fallen into line, until this has become the received opinion, however wrong it may be. But then, Hitch’s legacy is peppered with egregious falsehoods, such as the erroneous belief his entire British oeuvre is in the public domain and up for grabs.

Miles Mander and Elizabeth Pappritz in The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

You dirty old man. Miles Mander and Elizabeth Pappritz bring sin to The Pleasure Garden.


Production and release

The Pleasure Garden was adapted from the bestselling, eponymous 1923 novel by Oliver Sandys, actually the male pen name of prolific author Marguerite Florence Laura Jarvis. It was an Anglo-German co-production of Gainsborough Pictures and Emelka Film Studios, and entirely shot in Italy and Germany. First released in the latter country in November 1925, under the title of Irrgarten der Leidenschaft (Maze of Passion), its London trade show wasn’t until March 1926. Full UK release was eventually secured in January 1927, immediately preceding the public rollout of Hitch’s third film, The Lodger. Consequently, all three dates are regularly cited for The Pleasure Garden and though all are technically correct, the year it was first completed and publicly shown is most common.

Another commonly repeated fallacy is that The Pleasure Garden was so poor it was shelved indefinitely and only granted UK release in the wake of The Lodger‘s success. The dates simply don’t tally: it was clearly released just before the latter film, with the two playing around the country pretty much concurrently. So why are people so keen to perpetuate a false narrative? Subjugating The Pleasure Garden in favour of The Lodger in this way is further proof of the strange desire to posit the latter as Hitch’s first film and hang the rest. The basic fact is the release of Hitch’s first two films was temporarily delayed due to the interference of his then nemesis, C.M. Woolf. Gainsborough’s distributor saw them as wholly uncommercial and too “European”, and was reportedly abetted in this by Hitch’s old boss, the personally troubled Graham Cutts, who resented seeing the young man’s career so quickly eclipse his own. Woolf retained a lifelong dislike of Hitch’s style, but on this occasion begrudgingly backed off in the face of The Lodger‘s ecstatic trade show reviews. Don’t worry, it all balanced out in the end: Hitch obviously scaled far greater heights and in spite of their substantial achievements within the British film industry, the history books chiefly define Woolf and Cutts by their relationship to said young upstart. Well and truly owned.

Adding to The Pleasure Garden‘s truly international flavour were two specially imported American stars, Virginia Valli and Carmelita Geraghty. Hitch also cannily enlisted his then-girlfriend Alma Reville as assistant director, establishing a personal and professional partnership that would last for the rest of their lives. Hitch and Alma fell in love with several of the shooting locations, among them the Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. They returned there at least half a dozen times, including for their honeymoon the following year and intermittently thereafter up until the 1970s. Coincidentally, Madeleine Carroll, star of Hitch’s The 39 Steps and Secret Agent, married her first husband there in 1931.

Miles Mander and Virginia Valli honeymoon in The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Everlasting love? Miles Mander and Virginia Valli honeymoon in The Pleasure Garden.


Not Nita Naldi

For the record, though frequently stated otherwise, US star Nita Naldi, who played the lead in Hitch’s second film, The Mountain Eagle, did not appear as Miles Mander’s young native lover in The Pleasure Garden. At the time of shooting, Naldi was 30 years old and working in her home country on back-to-back films; she didn’t even arrive in Europe until almost two months after shooting had wrapped on Hitch’s first film. The part was actually played by Elizabeth Pappritz, a local 19-year-old German actor who bears no more than a passing resemblance to Naldi. The oft-repeated fallacy unfortunately originated with academic Peter Noble, in his Index to the Work of Alfred Hitchcock (Sight & Sound Supplement: Index Series, No. 18, BFI 1949). In it he also inadvertently started the rumour of The Mountain Eagle being retitled Fear o’ God for its US release; it wasn’t. In any case, Naldi was a major international star by this time and certainly not given to appearing in uncredited bit parts.

In his five-part Life Among the Stars series for the News Chronicle, 1–5 March, 1937, Hitch wrote in detail of meeting Naldi for the first time when she arrived to film The Mountain Eagle. He also said, “The star I had for the second film I directed was a very considerable star in her day. Her name was Nita Naldi: you probably remember her with Valentino in Blood and Sand. But she came across the Atlantic to make one picture in Germany for £1,500.” Further, when describing the small crew tasked with filming The Pleasure Garden‘s pivotal destructive scene at Alessio, though he didn’t actually say her name, Hitch did refer to the appointed actor as “A German girl” and “my little German girl”. Meanwhile, Pappritz was named and pictured in several German film magazines at the time, including Deutsche Filmwoche (no. 24, 9 October 1925) and Illustrierter Film-Kurier (vol. 7, no. 341, 1925). Of course, it being Hitch there has to be a final twist: in Life Among the Stars he also went on to state that Pappritz caught a chill and was reluctant to go into the water. To get around this he claims to have recruited a temporary stand-in: a waitress from the hotel where the crew was staying. But watching the film itself does not bear this out, unless he was actually referrring solely to the shots where she’s fully immersed. That’s a bit of a stretch though and after all, Hitch was famed as a lifelong teller of porkies.

Elizabeth Pappritz in The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock). Not Nita Naldi.

No sir, that’s not my baby. Elizabeth Pappritz: in the water, in The Pleasure Garden. Not Nita Naldi.


Two weeds, one flower

The Pleasure Garden‘s trade show length was 7,508 feet but was pruned further by the time of its British public release to 6,458 feet. The 6,788 foot restoration, with its original tinting scheme, wholly supersedes the two incomplete B&W versions which have been circulating for years. Both can be traced back to the same now-lost original negative. One version is thanks to infamous US film collector Raymond Rohauer who, with his customary conceit and faux-copyright-grabbing greed, re-edited a 16mm print and replaced all the beautiful original credits and intertitles – trained title designer Hitch literally had a hand in these – with plain, modern paraphrased ones. Executed in 1981, Rohauer’s hack job is more than ably scored by Lee Erwin on theatre organ; in fact, the music is the only decent thing about it. The second version derives from a preserved, longer but still-edited B&W nitrate print from the BFI, which retains the original titles. Each version contains footage missing from the other, and both are missing additional footage included in the restored version.

Most bootlegs feature a blurry copy of Rohauer’s redux, VHS-recorded from a Japanese TV broadcast with Japanese subtitles throughout. Others feature the BFI print, via an access copy supplied to the Munich Film Museum and scored by Aljoscha Zimmermann. That version, subtitled in German, was also broadcast on TV and copied by some bright spark to VHS, from whence the second bootleg version originates. Both were transferred at the too-fast sound speed of 24fps (the German copy has additional 4% PAL speedup = 25fps) and clock in at around 60 and 67 minutes respectively. They’re equally rife with damage and poor resolution, only compounding the confusing gaps and logic holes in the narrative. Yes, you can follow the basic framework of the plot, but heaven forbid you should get the chance to admire or appreciate the artistry of Hitchcock and his talented cast and crew.

On the other hand, the 2012 restoration is transferred at a far more natural 20fps and runs for over 90 minutes. Newly scored by Daniel Patrick Cohen, so far it’s only available for live screenings. Drawing on five archive prints, four of them early nitrate, the transformative result breathes totally new life into this long-neglected masterpiece. I’ve seen it performed live twice now, in the UK and Italy, and a home video release can’t come soon enough. Everyone deserves to sample the earthly delights of this particular garden, but in the meantime here’s a tantalising taste:

“More than any other of Hitchcock’s silent films, The Pleasure Garden has been transformed by restoration. An international search for material revealed copies held in France, the Netherlands, the United States as well as the BFI National Archive. For many years The Pleasure Garden had circulated in what appeared to be two versions, perhaps representing two different releases but close comparison at the BFI of the five copies, four of them original nitrate prints, meant that we could trace them all back to the same negative. Major narrative strands and twists have now been re-integrated making it possible to reconstruct, as fully as possible, the original edit and using the best of these sources we have been able to achieve a huge improvement in image quality. This was made possible by the restoration team’s delicate scanning, over several months, of 20 reels of fragile nitrate, totalling more than 17,500 feet. The colour scheme of The Pleasure Garden is particularly complex. The tints and tones of the nitrate copies differed but the colours of the restoration have been chosen to match the print in the BFI National Archive. Finally, the artwork and text of the intertitles have been completely restored.” – BFI programme notes


Home video

There have only been two authorised DVDs to date, from the UK and France, with both featuring a passable transfer of the Rohauer version. They’re sans Japanese subtitles of course, but still run at sound speed. The UK transfer has added attractive but specious tinting, while the scoreless B&W French DVD was sold with a magazine about the film.

Truth is, The Pleasure Garden is currently a sheer disappointment on home video. Thankfully it’s an anomaly and other official releases of British Hitchcocks are as good as they can possibly be – which in most cases is rather brilliant. Unless you’re really keen to see it, or pick it up anyway as part of Network’s otherwise generally excellent British Years set, I strongly advise you to wait for the restored version. Speaking of which…

Miles Mander and Virginia Valli in The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Green with envy, red with rage. Miles Mander and Virginia Valli, no longer having any pleasure in the garden.


The outlook is rosy

Bryony Dixon, supervisor of the Hitchcock 9 project, has said long and loud that this is by far the one most deserving of release, and I completely agree. The good news I can reveal here is that tentative plans are actually being made to release the restoration, with cinema and TV screenings to be followed by Blu-ray, DVD and online editions. And it’s only the beginning. Thus far, only three of the Hitchcock 9 have been released on a physical format, while a couple more have limited availability online. The non-appearance of the rest has been disappointing to say the least, but unfortunately many factors have conspired against them. It’s complicated. However, all concerned parties – restorers, archives, rights holders, theatrical distributors, home video licensees and more – care deeply about getting the remainder out there and are working hard to make it finally happen. As I said before, the films will almost certainly be tackled on an individual basis, with the release of each one very much dependent on the success of the last. So stand by ready to support them all you can.

24.9.2018 update: The Pleasure Garden is coming first, but its release will require some additional financial investment to make it happen – more on that soon. In the meantime, if you can offer any help or funding advice, please contact Daniel Cohen, composer of its commissioned score, or me directly.

However, you can also play your part right now. Lately I’ve been publishing a series of articles highlighting the fact that  none of Hitch’s films are public domain and they’re all copyrighted worldwide. Spread the word and help counter decades of erroneous thinking. Added to that, the huge number of bootlegs, especially of his British films, have almost – but not quite – killed the financial viability of future releases. Again, urge others to boycott the pirates; this ongoing series of guides makes it easy to tell the difference. The likes of YouTube are also full of copyright-infringing content and it’s a long, drawn-out process getting it removed; the very definition of a Sisyphean task. Most rights holders have simply given up trying. But the Internet Archive, a fantastic resource housing, among other things, a vast quantity of PD and free-to-use material, is also unwittingly home to many unauthorised uploads. The uninformed are prone to cite the presence of anything hosted there as proof of its PD status. Definitely not so. I’ve been working with the Archive to get all of Hitch’s features taken down. Efforts are still ongoing, as there were hundreds of them and many other copyrighted films have been scooped up in the net. We just removed almost 5,000 in a single day!

If the bootlegs and pirated uploads didn’t exist or were much fewer in number, we’d have had all the Hitchcock 9 a long time ago, to say nothing of countless other unreleased silents. That isn’t my opinion, it’s pure fact and all the aforementioned parties are privately emphatic about it. As for The Pleasure Garden itself, I’ve said all I can for now but check back for regular updates!

BFI video: Restoring The Pleasure Garden (8min)

Hitchcock at the Picture Palace (7min)

The Pleasure Garden (1925, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) dancing chorus girls

They’re dancing for joy in The Pleasure Garden. And soon so will we.


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For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This guide will be kept updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

2 Comments

  1. holden190
    September 20, 07:42 Reply
    Great article. I love Hitch's British period. Question: You mention that none are in the public domain, but are still copyrighted. but you don't mention who actually *owns* the copyrights. Is it the Hitchcock Estate?
  2. Brent Reid
    September 20, 17:07 Reply
    Thank you! The owners are all listed in the "huge number of bootlegs" link.

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