The Mountain Eagle (1926)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon (1)
Screenplay by Eliot Stannard (1), Max Ferner
Story by Charles Lapworth
Cinematography by Gaetano di Ventimiglia (1)
Gainsborough Pictures, Münchner Lichtspielkunst Bavaria Film
Distributed by Woolf & Freedman Film Service (UK), Artlee Independent Film (US)
No, I have not discovered a print of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film The Mountain Eagle (1926), but I did want to at least mention it during my Hitchcock project.
Hitchcock directed his first two films, this one and The Pleasure Garden (1925) in Munich. His first job in German was in Berlin, as an art director. Knowing not a single word of German, Hitchcock communicated with a German draftsman only through pencil drawings. In an interview with Bob Thomas in Action, 8 (January-February 1973), part of the collection, Alfred Hitchcock: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers series), edited by Sidney Gottlieb, Hitchcock states, “The Germans in those times placed great emphasis on telling the story visually; if possible with no titles or at least very few.”
The Mountain Eagle was filmed in the Austrian Tyrol, with studio work in Munich. In one of his famous interviews with François Truffaut, Hitchcock said, “It was a very bad movie. The producers were always trying to break into the American market, so they wanted another film star. And so, for the part of the village schoolmistress, they sent me Nita Naldi, the successor to Theda Bara. She had fingernails out to there.” (Hitchcock stated in the Thomas interview that Naldi’s nails were an inch long and she refused to cut them.) “Ridiculous!”
Truffaut says, “I have the scenario here. The story is about a store manager who is after an innocent young schoolteacher. She takes refuge in the mountains, under the protection of a recluse, whom she eventually marries. Is that right?"
Hitchcock’s reply: “I’m afraid it is!”
The film's Wikipedia article offers this synopsis: “The film, a romantic melodrama set in Kentucky, is about a widower (Bernhard Goetzke) who jealously competes with his crippled son (John F. Hamilton) and a man he loathes (Malcolm Keen) over the affections of a schoolteacher (Nita Naldi).”
Apparently the production was loaded with problems, not the least of which involved a run-in with the fire department, tension among the locals, and Hitchcock’s battles with altitude sickness. Yet he also learned much from working with the German film industry in general and enjoying a large measure of directorial freedom he would not have had at home in England.
There's an awful lot of strangling going on in this movie...
At one time, the six photos reproduced in the book Hitchcock/Truffaut were thought to be the only production stills surviving, but more emerged, including a set of 24 stills found in 2012 in an archive belonging to one of Hitchcock’s friends.
A lobby card was found in a flea market in Massachusetts, so who knows what might turn up next? Maybe the film will appear someday? Hitchcock seemed pleased that it never emerged, so maybe we should also be thankful. Perhaps it’s one of those “Be careful what you wish for” situations. Even if it is terrible, I’d still like to see it, if for no other reason than to see the director’s development from his first film to his next, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), which I’ll cover next. But many people are actively seeking a print of The Mountain Eagle. The British Film Institute places it at the top of their BFI 75 Most Wanted films list and are vigorously searching for it.
Want to learn more? I’m certainly not a Hitchcock scholar or an expert, but others have written extensively on the film, including this fascinating article by Dave Pattern on how the film may have come to be lost. (Although I must confess, looking at the newspaper clippings, I think I’m more interested in seeing Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl.)
Thanks for reading. My next visit to the Hitchcock Project will cover The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927). Stay tuned.
(I am also keeping up with how many times Hitchcock used the same collaborators. For instance, you will notice a (1) next to a few names in the production credits, signifying that these people were also used in Hitchcock’s first film. I plan to continue this practice throughout. Right now, I’m numbering the films according to their listing in the Hitchcock/Truffaut book which I will provide in the next post for those who do not have access to the book).
Photos: Brenton Film, IMDb, Filmaffinity