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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mountain Eagle (1926) Alfred Hitchcock's Lost Film

Nita Naldi as Beatrice

Malcolm Keen
as John 'Fear o' God' Fulton
John F. Hamilton
as Edward Pettigrew
Bernhard Goetzke
as Mr. Pettigrew
Ferdinand Martini
(unknown role)

This is Hitchcock's second feature film and the only one that is considered a lost film, which means that no prints of the film are known to exist. Hitchcock himself considered it a mundane melodrama best forgotten, though fans naturally remain curious. In François Truffaut's book, Hitchcock / Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock himself described the film as "awful" and said he was "not sorry there are no known prints". Film historian J. Lary Kuhns, however, states in the book Hitchcock's Notebooks by Dan Auiler that one contemporary writer called The Mountain Eagle far superior to The Lodger.

Exteriors were filmed in Obergurgl, Austria. The Austrian Tyrol stood in for the mountains and hollows of Kentucky. Bad weather during the shooting was a constant source of trouble.

Although it was Hitchcock's second completed film, due to the runaway success of The Lodger, it was released three months after it.

Several surviving stills are reproduced in François Truffaut's book. More stills have recently been found to exist, many of which are reproduced in Dan Auiler's book. A lobby card (illustrated above right) for the film was found at a flea market in Rowley, Massachusetts. It was found in a box of broken frames and was being used as backing for the picture of another dog. The dog's significance in the film remains a mystery. It may have been used to assist Edward in fleeing the village or to help film's hero, John Fulton, during his escape from prison or return to the village seeking a doctor.

Although the film was reportedly released in the United States as Fear o' God, the title on the surviving U.S. lobby card seems to contradict this. Film historian J. Larry Kuhns claims the film was never released under that title.

The film is set in Kentucky. J. P. Pettigrew's (Bernhard Goetzke) wife died giving birth to his son Edward (John F. Hamilton) who was born a cripple. Pettigrew hates John ("Fear o' God") Fulton (Malcolm Keen) who also loved Pettigrew's wife. Pettigrew sees his now grown son making love to schoolteacher Beatrice (Nita Naldi) and seeks her out. During a discussion of her relationship to his son he attempts to take her in his arms but Beatrice rejects his advances. Pettigrew's son Edward sees this and flees the village.

Pettigrew is incensed at both Beatrice's rejection and the loss of his son. He attempts to have Beatrice arrested as a wanton harlot. John forestalls Pettigrew's plan by marrying Beatrice and taking her to his cabin where they fall in love. Beatrice becomes pregnant. Pettigrew seeks revenge by having John thrown in prison for murdering his (missing) son.

A year later John breaks out of prison and attempts to flee with Beatrice and their child but Beatrice falls ill and John must return to the village for a doctor. There he finds Edward has reappeared. His affairs are now cleared up and he is legally free from the charge of murder. Pettigrew is subsequently accidentally shot and no longer a threat to John and his family.

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