Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) makes the point in a 1966 interview that he didn’t consciously set out to be the master of the macabre. He believed that he gravitated to the macabre because it was a British preoccupation. One thinks of Jack the Ripper, penny dreadfuls, and countless whodunnits where the body is found in the library and the butler either did or didn’t do it.
The seeds of Hitchcock were already planted in his first film as director, The Pleasure Garden, from 1925. He treats us to unsavory pickpockets, men leering at dancing girls, the ghost of a murdered Polynesian woman, and a plot that resolves with a well-placed gunshot. There were many elements of Hitchcock that came later, like his use of location as character and his innocent man caught up in bizarre plots, but this first film is already Hitchcockian in some small way, if only because it is so quintessentially British.
The film has never been an A-list film, so it hasn’t gotten the beautiful restoration that many old silents have gotten. But the print isn’t bad. You can only get it on a Region 2 (European) DVD, so you have to have a region-free DVD player or find a hack to get an American player to play it.
The story is a parallel tale of two chorus line girls, one of whom takes up a life of decadence while her innocent fiancé goes off on a two-year stint to the South Seas; and the other of whom gets duped into a one-month marriage with the first guy’s friend, who then abandons her as he heads to the South Seas to cavort with his Polynesian woman. Many of the images in the film are straight from the 1920’s: a vampish flapper woman descending into a life of sin; flashes of Somerset Maugham stories as torrid passions play out in the Tropics.
It is a testimony to the greatness of later Hitchcock that The Pleasure Garden was preserved, considering that such a huge percentage of silent films have been lost. In fact, only one of Hitchcock’s films as director is considered a lost film, his second, The Mountain Eagle. In the search for lost silent films, the lost Hitchcock is perhaps the world’s most wanted lost film, although Hitchcock himself was reportedly relieved that it was lost.