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Silent Hitchcock: whatever happened to The Mountain Eagle?

February 9, 2013
Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville filming The Mountain Eagle

Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville filming The Mountain Eagle

Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville are back in the cinemas this weekend, courtesy of Sacha Gervasi’s controversial Hitchcock, which imagines what may have gone into the making of the notorious Psycho.

Who leered at who during the filming of the shower scene is not the biggest mystery in Hitchcock’s career, however. For anyone who enjoyed this summer’s programme of silent Hitchcock films, the big question is: where is The Mountain Eagle (1926)?

Hitchcock’s second film is the only one of his to be lost –  and it may never even have been shown in Britain. It’s currently top of the BFI’s Most Wanted list, and despite the occasional hoax, we have no clues as to its location. The recent discovery of some stills from the film have renewed interest in the hunt for the lost film. Could those precious reels be lurking in the Austrian village where it was filmed?

Though The Mountain Eagle was only Hitch’s second film, the reviews were unenthusiastic and he described it himself as “a very bad movie”, he made it just before he directed The Lodger, so there really is a chance that it’s not half bad. It starred Malcolm Keen with American vamp Nita Naldi and the plot focused on a school teacher and a hermit in rural Kentucky:

Pettigrew, a shop-keeper in a mountain town of Kentucky, falls in love with the teacher, Beatrice. The girl doesn’t consider him as a lover, so he gets angry and accuses her of molesting his son Edward who has a mental illness. The girl marries the hermit, Fear O’God Fulton in order to calm the people’s anger and day by day she falls in love with her husband and a child is born. Pettigrew hides Edward and charges the hermit with his son’s murder. Fear O’God is imprisoned but he escapes and takes refuge in the mountain with his wife and son. (From Hitchcock Wiki)

Shades of The Birds maybe? Perhaps that’s just me.

By Hitch’s own account, he did not get along with Naldi at all well:

First we quarrelled about her nails. They came down from half an inch beyond the finger to a quarter. We had another discussion. They came down to an eighth. Another discussion and they were all right. The heels came down layer by layer. The makeup was altered shade by shade. The hair was changed curl by curl.

The makers of Hitchcock, and the recent TV film The Girl would undoubtedly regard that as par for the course. Though this snippet from the director’s 1937 article Life Among the Stars  is a real eyebrow-raiser:

A few weeks later, when Alma and I were married, we went to Paris for our honeymoon and spent the first day of it with Nita. But that is another story — and one I’m not going to tell.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that no, I have not stumbled across The Mountain Eagle, but I did discover this rather chilling but elegant silent short on Vimeo. It’s called The Projectionist, it was written and directed by film student Jamie Thraves last year and it features a piano score by Costas Fotopoulos – plus it is loosely inspired by the mystery of The Mountain Eagle.

Enjoy – and keep your eyes peeled.

  • Visit The Space for a collection of videos on Hitchock’s silent years, including featurettes on The Pleasure Garden and Matthew Sweet and Henry K Miller talking about “Hitchcock at the Picture Palace”
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