- The legend begins: spotlighting the Master’s first film
- Replete with many trademark Hitchcockian flourishes
- It’s an early masterpiece but is still largely unknown
- Lost and found: modern biblical story of sin and salvation
- It has yet to be released in its restored original version
- All current home video versions are a disappointment
- They’re of battered, badly edited prints, but there is hope
- Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT in the public domain
- This hasn’t stopped cheap bootlegs flooding the market
Note: this is one of 100-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.
- A neglected garden
- Production and release
- Not Nita Naldi
- Two weeds, one flower
- Home video
- The outlook is rosy
- Pleasure in the public domain
- Related articles
A neglected garden
Hitch’s feature début is an overt morality tale whose title, like that of The Ring, is meant for interpretation in various ways: literal (the theatre of its initial setting); erotic (its many references to pleasures of the flesh); and the darkly ironic (several characters’ descent into hell). Its Japanese title, 快楽の園, pleasingly yet rather less subtly translates as The Garden of Earthly Delights, after the notorious triptych by Hieronymus Bosch. The storyline clearly appealed to Hitch’s strong Catholic sensibilities. As the BFI’s Hitchcock 9 restoration 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.
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, with a flourish 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 full throttle, but of all his works this is by far the most unfairly 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 much of the remaining footage 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 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 myself 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 unwarranted 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, as the overwhelming majority are lost or unavailable. So you see, it’s much easier for his latter-day 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 such egregious falsehoods, such as the erroneous belief his entire British oeuvre is in the public domain and up for grabs.
Production and release
The film’s title refers to the fateful theatre where two chorus girls meet and begin their intertwining story. Of course, it’s ironic as it turns out to be anything but pleasurable; much like the Garden of Eden a deadly snake is lurking, ready to bring discord and tragedy. The screenplay was adapted from the bestselling, eponymous 1923 novel (Internet Archive) by Oliver Sandys, actually the masculine pen name of prolific author Marguerite Florence Laura Jarvis. It was an Anglo-German co-production of Gainsborough Pictures and Emelka Film Studios in Munich, and entirely shot at the latter’s facility and on location in Italy. The original German title was to have been Der Garten der Lust but this was deemed too racy by the censors, so the toned-down Irrgarten der Leidenschaft (Maze of Passion) was adopted instead.
Hitch’s original contract for directing The Pleasure Garden – yours for only $22,000!
Another commonly repeated fallacy is that The Pleasure Garden (and The Mountain Eagle) 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 “the first true Hitchcock film” and hang the rest, Admittedly though, this misapprehension was started by the man himself when he somewhat misleadingly stated as much to Truffaut. 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 than either and in spite of their own 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 The 39 Steps and Secret Agent, married her first husband there in 1931; or perhaps it was on the Hitchcocks’ personal recommendation? After all, Alma had already co-written The First Born (1928), a fantastic weepie in which Carroll starred.
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 name her, 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 (he was being circumspect: she was actually on her period) 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 referring solely to the shots where she’s fully immersed. That’s a bit of a stretch though as Pappritz was already in the water anyway and after all, Hitch was famed as a lifelong teller of porkies.
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 credits and intertitles with plain, modern paraphrased ones. Don’t forget: trained title designer Hitch literally had a hand in the originals, but Rohauer’s arrogance knew no bounds. 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. Its original source had a PAL encode and was converted to NTSC by repeating every fifth frame. Other boots 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 most other bootleg transfers originate. 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 really 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 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
Any upcoming worldwide screenings, with an improvised piano accompaniment unless stated otherwise, are listed here.
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 scoreless B&W French DVD was sold with a magazine about the film, while the better-condition UK transfer has added attractive but specious tinting.
- UK: Network DVD (2008), also in Network 10-DVD/11-film H: The British Years (2008)
- France Journaux.fr 2on1 DVD (2002, reissued 2007) w/Mary – no score
Truth is, The Pleasure Garden is currently a sheer disappointment on home video. Thankfully it’s an anomaly and most other official releases of British Hitchcocks are as good as they can be at present – which in most cases is rather brilliant. Unless you’re really keen to see The Pleasure Garden , 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…
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 a few 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 but its release will require some additional financial investment to make it happen – more here. 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 misinformed 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 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 videos (not all still work)
- AH from the Archive
- The Seeds of Genius (7min)
- Hitchcock at the Picture Palace (7min)
- Restoring The Pleasure Garden (8min)
- Scoring The Pleasure Garden (11min)
- Video notes
Pleasure in the public domain
1.1.2021 update: Various folk are already claiming that The Pleasure Garden has just “entered the public domain” as of the end of 2020. Its actual, US-only, copyright expiry date is the end of 2021, based on it not being released/published in the UK, Germany and the US until 1926 (plus 95 years), rather than the 1925 filming/completion date that some are erroneously calculating from. For the rest of the world, the expiry date is the end of 2050 (Hitch’s death plus 70 years). Even then, bear in mind in both cases it only applies to the two non-restored, untinted prints detailed above – and nothing else. Not their specially recorded and separately authored, copyrighted scores; not Rohauer’s copyrighted, recut, retinted version or its modern score; and definitely not the BFI’s restored, tinted restoration and its new score. Obviously, the same rules apply to Hitch’s other silents as they in turn begin to enter the public domain. Next due to expire are The Mountain Eagle (US end of 2021, rotw 2050), should it ever be found, and The Lodger (US end of 2022, rotw 2050), as they were first released/published in the the aforementioned countries in 1926 and 1927 respectively.
A word or two on The Pleasure Garden’s initial releases: the first German exhibition is often cited as being in Munich, 3 November 1925 but extensive searching hasn’t turned up anything in the city’s newspapers around that date. All citations seem to lead back to an unsourced mention on IMDb but even if true it likely refers to a preview screening, irrelevant for copyright purposes. There are various mentions in British and German trade papers regarding different stages of the production and filming in Italy and Germany from March–August 1925. It looks as if previous researchers accessing these primary sources have mistaken them as referring to actual public screenings, hence the confusion. Much more reliable are two January 1926 trade paper mentions: an advert in Der Kinematograph and a Film-Kurier review (9.1.1926), translated in Charles Barr’s English Hitchcock (1999, p. 216). There is also a brief review in the morning edition of the Berliner Börsen-Zeitung (16.1.1926, p. 3, top right) and a lengthy review in the morning edition of the Deutsche allgemeine Zeitung (16.1.1926, p. 3, bottom left). It’s a pretty safe bet it went on general release soon afterwards, as indicated in the Wiesbadener Bade-Blatt (top centre p. 1, 13.8.1926 and p. 10, 15.8.1926).
Across the Channel, the film had a month of trade shows commencing 23 March 1926 at the Tivoli in the Strand, London (Kine Weekly advert 18.3.1926 and review 25.3.1926), followed by a single week of public screenings at the Capitol in London’s Haymarket from 12 April 1926. After the enforced hiatus precipitated by C.M. Woolf, it was finally shown nationally from January–November 1927, immediately preceding the public roll-out of The Lodger. Various US screenings took place from at least September 1926, as evidenced by the Hammond Lake County Times and Lowell Sun, to April 1928, as in the Alton Evening Telegraph. Reviews: Variety (Nov 3 1926, p. 20; text) and Photoplay (Jan 1927, p. 126-127).
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
- Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.