Mountain Eagle, The (1926): Hitchcock’s Second Film, Starring Nita Naldi

The Mountain Eagle was Hitchcock’s second silent feature shot in Germany, as well as his second collaboration with Hollywood star Nita Naldi.

The story is set in Kentucky, with Germany standing in for the Kentucky hills. The film deals with what will become the most recurrent theme in Hitchcock’s work: the innocent individual, falsely accused, forcing him or her to see the truth.

Naldi plays a schoolteacher who is caught in the middle of a village feud. Wrongly accused of immorality, the woman is driven into the woods, where she’s rescued by mysterious mountain man named Fearogod (Malcolm Keen), thus the title.

Screenwriter Elliot Stannard shows no knowledge of how Kentuckian hillbillies look or behave, but Hitchcock, despite acute health problems at the time, breathed life into the incoherent story with some visual touches.

(Hitchcock would have liked to believe that “The Mountain Loge” was his very first movie.

Credits

Running time: 68 Minutes.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Released: May 25, 1926.

Cast

Bernhard Goetzke as Pettigrew

John Hamilton as Edward Pettigrew

Malcolm Keen as Fear O’God

Nita Naldi as Beatrice the governess

 

and Alfred Hitchcock’s second as director, after The Pleasure Garden.

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).

The film was mostly produced at the Emelka Film studios in Munich, Germany in autumn of 1925, with exterior scenes shot in the village of Obergurgl in the State of Tyrol, Austria. Production was plagued with problems, including the destruction of a village roof and Hitchcock experiencing altitude sickness.

Due to producing the film in Germany, Hitchcock had more directorial freedom than he would have had in England, and he was influenced by German cinematic style.

Six surviving stills of The Mountain Eagle are reproduced in François Truffaut’s book. In 2012, a set of 24 still photographs were found in the archive of a Hitchcock’s close friend.

The film is set in Kentucky, where J. P. Pettigrew’s (Bernhard Goetzke) wife had died giving birth to their son Edward (John F. Hamilton), born disabled. Pettigrew loathes John ‘Fear o’ God’ Fulton (Malcolm Keen) who was also in love with Pettigrew’s wife. Pettigrew later witnesses his son making love to schoolteacher Beatrice (Nita Naldi).  He attempts to embrace him, but Beatrice rejects his advances. Pettigrew’s son Edward sees the ordeal and flees the village.

Upset at both Beatrice’s rejection and loss of his son, he tries to have Beatrice arrested as a wanton harlot. John forestalls Pettigrew’s plan by marrying Beatrice and taking her to his cabin. They fall in love, and 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. However, Beatrice falls ill and John must call a doctor. There he finds that Edward has reappeared. John’s affairs are now cleared up and he is legally free from the murder charge. When Pettigrew is shot and wounded, he is no longer a threat to John and his family.

Both The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle were co-productions with Emelka Film Studios in Munich.

The film was mostly shot at Emelka in Munich in the fall of 1925, with exteriors shot on location in Obergurgl, (southwestern Austria).

The Ötztal Alps stand in for the mountains of Kentucky.

In Germany, Hitchcock had more directorial freedom than he would have had in England, and he was influenced by the vibrant German cinema of the 1920a.

Production was plagued with problems, beginning with poor weather during the locations shoot, and Hitchcock and crew had an uneasy relationship with the locals. Hitchcock ordered the clearance of snow from a meadow and ordered the local volunteer fire brigade to blast it away, causing the roof of a nearby building to collapse. The mayor demanded compensation of one shilling, but Hitchcock gave the house’s female owner two shillings for the repair and inconvenience.

Initially screened for producers in October 1926, the film was disliked by producers who decided to shelve it. However, due to success of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, which was hit theaters in February 1927, The Mountain Eagle was released 3 months later on May 23, 1927.

The film, distributed by Gainsborough Pictures, was neither a critical nor commercial success.  Like Hitchcock’s other early works, the film was criticized for its lack of realism. Hitchcock himself saw The Mountain Eagle as mundane melodrama, and described the film to Truffaut as a “very bad movie;” he was not sorry there are no prints.

Disappointed with his first two films, Hitchcock believed that his directing career would be over. He later described Waltzes from Vienna (1934) to be the “lowest ebb” of his career.

Characters:

A ripping yarn about a dastardly father, a crippled son, a lovely schoolteacher and an innocent imprisoned.

Cultural Status

The Cine Tirol Film Commission described The Mountain Eagle as “the most wanted film in the world.” In 1992, the British Film Institute included it on its first list of “Missing Presumed Lost Films.”

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