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On this Day in Movie History March 1, 1926 Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden Opens

In the winter of 1926, distributors and a few press got a chance to see The Pleasure Garden, the first film by a promising art director and writer-turned-director Alfred Hitchcock. Many critics were astonished. Producer Michael Balcon allowed Hitchcock to direct the film when Graham Cutts, a jealous executive at Gainsborough Pictures, refused to let Hitchcock work on The Rat.

Picturegoer’s Cedric Belfrage wrote, “Hitchcock has such a complete grasp of all the different branches of film technique that the is able to take far more control of his production than the average director of four times his experience.” Unfortunately, the film’s distributor felt something similar, but not in a good way. They complained of the visual complexity and strange camera angles (like an overhead shot of spiral staircase). Some suggested that its German Expressionistic influences made it un-English.

In the movie, based on a 1923 novel by Oliver Sandys, the pen name for Marguerite Florence Barclay, Patsy, a chorus girl at the Pleasure Garden Theater, marries Levett, a soldier of fortune. Before her honeymoon she meets Jill, the girlfriend of her husband's friend Hugh, and gets her a job as a chorus girl too. After the honeymoon, Levett and Hugh leave for the tropics while Patsy and Jill stay in London. Jill cheats on Hugh with other men. Hearing Levett is ill, Patsy goes to the tropics. She discovers he is an alcoholic living with a native woman and leaves him. Levett murders the native woman and tries to murder Patsy, but she is rescued. She returns to London and starts a relationship with Jill's ex-boyfriend Hugh.

Before making The Pleasure Garden, Hitchcock had lived in Berlin working on a series of co-productions between the English Gainsborough and the German UFA studios for producer Michael Balcon. There Hitchcock soaked up Berlin’s film and culture. Given the reins to direct it, Hitchcock, with a lot of support from the editor Alma Reville (who’d soon be his wife) used everything he knew––the German cinema’s high-contrast lighting, Griffith’s sense of suspense, and even a touch of suggested lesbianism that he glimpsed at a nightclub in Berlin–– to give the melodramatic plot a touch of flair.

But the film, as well as his next English-German picture, The Mountain Eagle, were shelved as unreleasable. Not till January 1927, when the film’s producer Michael Balcon arranged for them to be released as a build up to his much-anticipated thriller The Lodger.Shot in 1925 and shown to the British press in March 1926 the film was not officially released in the UK until 1927, after Hitchcock's film The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog became a massive hit.

1910 - (James) David (Graham) Niven (Academy Award-winning actor: Separate Tables [1958]; The Moon is Blue, Paper Tiger, The Pink Panther, The Guns of Navarone, Around the World in 80 Days, Casino Royale; died July 29, 1983)

1926 - Robert Clary (Widerman) (actor: Hogan's Heroes, Holocaust Survivors/Remembrance of Love)

1935 - Robert Conrad (Konrad Robert Falkowski) (actor: The Wild Wild West, High Mountain Rangers [w/sons Christian & Shane], Crossfire, Lady in Red, Samurai Cowboy, Jingle All the Way)

1945 - Dirk Benedict (actor: The A-Team, Chopper One, Battlestar Galactica, Alaska, Blue Tornado, W, Georgia, Georgia)

1947 - Alan Thicke (actor: Hope & Gloria, Growing Pains, Not Quite Human series; TV host: Thicke of the Night, Animal Crack-Ups)

1954 - Catherine Bach (actress: The Dukes of Hazzard, African Skies, Rage and Horror, Street Justice, Driving Force, Cannonball Run 2, Nicole)

1954 - Ron Howard (Emmy Award-winning producer: From the Earth to the Moon [1998]; actor: The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days, American Graffiti; director: Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Backdraft, Apollo 13)

1956 - Timothy Daly (actor: Diner, Wings, Storm of the Century, The Fugitive [2000])

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