|How the BFI gave Hitchcock's The Pleasure Garden its rhythm back|
Until last night no one had seen more than an approximation of Alfred Hitchcock's first film since it made his name 87 years ago. Unveiled at Wilton's Music Hall with a new score by recent RAM graduate Daniel Patrick Cohen, the BFI's restoration of The Pleasure Garden (1925) makes clear that the 26-year-old Hitchcock, as the Sunday Herald's critic Walter Mycroft wrote on its release, "definitely arrived in one stride". Its themes of voyeurism, manipulation, and delusion are instantly familiar from his better-known later work.
Wilton's, itself appealingly unrestored, provided an apt setting. A Victorian venue in Jack-the-Ripper territory, of the kind that was being displaced by cinemas when Hitchcock was working in nearby Blomfield Street, it is also not unlike the Pleasure Garden of the title, where rich men go to leer at chorus girls.
The tangled love lives of two of them, seemingly worldly Patsy and apparently guileless Jill, constitute the plot. Londoner Patsy (Virginia Valli), having offered provincial escapee Jill (Carmelita Geraghty) a place in her rented room – indeed, bed – and promised her homely fiancé she'll look out for her, ends up being proved the real innocent. While the unheeding Jill heads straight for the nearest sugar daddy, surprisingly emerging unscathed and enriched, Patsy falls for impecunious bounder Levet, played by the entertaining Miles Mander (a method cad by some accounts). A cute dog, if only she'd listened, had his and Jill's number all along.
It's not just that 20-odd minutes have been added to the extant hour-long version; it's that what we had didn't entirely make sense without them. The most widely available version before now was pared down to the narrative bone, often at the expense of what became known as the Hitchcock touch – and as Mycroft said at the time, The Pleasure Garden, adapted from a popular novel of 1923, is a story "transmuted by his treatment". Comic business of various kinds, and a signature cut from a pot of tea being poured to a glass of champagne being filled, were among the victims.
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. (A little alarmingly, Hitchcock and his assistant director Alma Reville took their own honeymoon at the same spot 18 months after filming there.)
Hitchcock joined the film business as a designer of what were called "art titles", embellishing the title-cards with themed backgrounds and illustrations, and though they fell out of fashion under the doctrine of "pure cinema", when positioned with care they reduced the need for Hitchcock's dreaded "photographs of people talking" by cutting to the dramatic chase, and provided a kind of punctuation. The sometimes florid originals, entirely absent from the home video version but happily reinstated here, help transform the picture.
The Pleasure Garden was filmed by a British company with American stars at a German studio, and on location in Italy, and in a similarly international spirit the new print, though assembled by the BFI, contains material from five archives in four countries. It has long been said that The Pleasure Garden's first shots, which show an exchange of looks between a voyeur and the object of his desire – his point-of-view of her legs; her unease-inducing glare back – announces the Hitchcock we know. The restored film introduces a Hitchcock we didn't.