The Pleasure Garden (Alfred Hitchcock / United Kingdom-Germany, 1925):

The bravura opening starts with what Dreyer once described as "a strong sense of the vertical," chorine after chorine racing down a spiral staircase followed by a collage of views of the stage show, the girls caught between the smoky theatre crew behind the curtains and the front row of tuxedoed lechers. One patron trades his monocle for a pair of binoculars in a bleary POV shot (Nabokov’s oculus?) and then approaches the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s blondes, who, in keeping with the sequence’s fascination with obfuscated vision, turns out to be a brunette (Virginia Valli). Her double is the raw ingénue (Carmelita Geraghty) who wanders onto the London revue and wows the boss with a cyclone of Charleston, "just some real hot steps." The new dancer shoots to the top and becomes suspended between staying true to her beau (John Stuart) and playing kept-woman to a chin-whiskered, half-lidded Prince (Karl Falkenberg); Valli meanwhile remains stuck on amateur hour and married to a scrawny cad (Miles Mander) with no taste for romance. (The warmest exchange during their trip to Venice: "You threw away my rose!" "It had wilted.") A British-German production (one courtier is given Cesare the Somnambulist’s face and hands), where the tropical plantation of the film’s second half is as much of a world of artifice as the theatrical backdrop of the first half. Mossy intrigue jolted by style and delirium, by feverish characters brought back to their senses by kisses and bullets, by the phantom of the drowned native girl (the third brunette) skulking accusatorily towards the camera. Misleading façades and overlapping triangles, above all Hitchcock’s conception of cinema as spectacle that is consciously watched. Much of the backstage drama goes into Stage Fright while Under Capricorn takes up the portrait of a betrayed relationship overseas, Secret Agent’s howling pooch is already here, licking the heroine’s toes. With Ferdinand Martini, Florence Helminger, and Georg Schnell. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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