The action sweeps from London to Lake Como and on to Dakar, where Patsy finds herself in a battle for her life that had me holding my breath. I think I was gasping. And I was just watching a press screener on my computer, with no music. (The National Gallery will have live accompaniment.)
Hitchcock, master of suspense — even in the infancy of his career.
On top of that, he delivers the sisterly camaraderie, ephemeral glamour, drudgery and creepiness of London’s nightclub scene — and the strong backbone surviving in it demands, as seen in the film’s plucky heroine — with verve and a surprising depth of insight.
“What every chorus girl knows,” reads one of the inter-titles, and next we see a dancer elbow-deep in soapsuds, washing her tights.
Yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the British filmmaker had a soft spot for dancers. Think of his nonverbal finesse, his precise and fluid way of blocking scenes and isolating gestures, as in a work of dance-theater. He put his actors in motion with a kinetic charge that was simple, direct and emotionally powerful — Cary Grant running for his life in “North by Northwest,” and earlier in the film, striding down a hall in a way that told us what kind of man he was. And recall the dizzying grace of Grant and Ingrid Bergman’s slow-dance kiss in “Notorious” as the camera swirls around them.
“The Pleasure Garden” was restored by the British Film Institute National Archive in a three-year project to refurbish the nine silent Hitchcock movies that still exist. Produced between 1925 and 1929, they suffered varying degrees of damage over the years. Now cleaned and pieced back to near-original form, the films have been on an international tour. “The Hitchcock 9” has been presented here by the AFI Silver Theatre and the National Gallery. “The Pleasure Garden” is last in the series.
Of the nine, “The Pleasure Garden” has a double significance. It proves, astonishingly, that the seeds of many Hitchcockisms were planted at the start: his love of motion, but also his fondness for voyeurism, staircases, binoculars, ominous beverages and dirty jokes. Here, right off the bat, Hitchcock is Hitchcock, almost fully formed. At 26.