The Mountain Eagle is a 1927 British silent film, and Alfred Hitchcock's second as director, following The Pleasure Garden. 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). 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 and technique.
The film was screened for the producers in October 1926 who did not approve of it, and it wasn't until after the success of Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog that they released the film in May 1927. The film was poorly received and criticised for its lack of realism, and Hitchcock himself was relieved that the film was lost. Six surviving stills of The Mountain Eagle are reproduced in François Truffaut's book, and further stills have been found to exist. In 2012, a set of 24 still photographs were found in an archive of one of Hitchcock's close friends. The Cine Tirol Film Commission has described it as "the most wanted film in the world", and the British Film Institute has the film on the top of their list of missing films and is actively searching for it.
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 a cripple. Pettigrew loathes John 'Fear o' God' Fulton (Malcolm Keen) who was also in love with Pettigrew's wife. Pettigrew later witnesses his now-grown son making love to schoolteacher Beatrice (Nita Naldi), and confronts her about the relationship. 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, and thus 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. However, Beatrice falls ill and John must return to the village for a doctor. There he finds that Edward has reappeared. John's 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.Nita Naldi as Beatrice
Malcolm Keen as John 'Fear o' God' Fulton
John F. Hamilton as Edward Pettigrew
Bernhard Goetzke as J.P. Pettigrew
The Mountain Eagle is the only feature film directed by Hitchcock that is considered a lost film, meaning that no prints of the film are known to exist. Six 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 for the film was found in a box of broken frames at a flea market in Rowley, Massachusetts. In 2012, a set of 24 still photographs were found in an archive of one of Hitchcock's close friends. Although these images gave clues to the film and its story, they were taken on the set rather than being stills from the film itself. They were auctioned off in Los Angeles for $6,000 (£3,700). Hitchcock's notebooks were also found, documenting his journey to Obergurgl, by train, horse and cart, and by foot.
Both The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle were produced in co-operation with Emelka Film Studios in Munich, Germany. The film was mostly shot at Emelka in Munich in the fall of 1925, and the film exteriors were shot on location in Obergurgl, in what is now the municipality of Sölden in the State of Tyrol in southwestern Austria, the Ötztal Alps standing in for the mountains and hollows of Kentucky. Due to producing the film in Germany, Hitchcock had more directorial freedom than he would have had in England, and influences in the technique and style of German cinema are evident in his early works.
Production was plagued with problems. Bad weather during the shooting was a constant source of trouble, and Hitchcock and the 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 woman who owned the house two shillings to cover the repair work and the inconvenience. Hitchcock offended the locals by refusing to stay at the village inn, and when he was taken ill with altitude sickness, he blamed the sickness on his reaction to the guttural sound of their accents.
The film was initially screened for the producers in October 1926, but they didn't think much of the film and decided to shelve it. However, due to the runaway success of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, which was released in February 1927, the producers decided to release The Mountain Eagle three months later on 23 May 1927. The film was reportedly released in the United States as Fear o' God, but the title on the surviving US lobby card seems to contradict this. Film historian J. Larry Kuhns claims that the film was never released under that title.
The film, distributed by Gainsborough Pictures, was neither a critical nor commercial success; Leonard J. Leff states that the film "impressed neither the distributor nor the public". Like Hitchcock's other early films, the film was criticised for a lack of realism; an early review by Bioscope stated that "in spite of skilful and at times brilliant direction, the story has an air of unreality." Hitchcock himself considered The Mountain Eagle to be mundane melodrama best forgotten, and described the film to François Truffaut as "awful" and a "very bad movie" and stated that he was not sorry that there are no known prints. After being bitterly disappointed with his first two films, Hitchcock believed that his directing career would soon be over, although he later described Waltzes from Vienna (1934) to be the "lowest ebb" of his career. 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. The Guardian describes the film as "a ripping yarn about a dastardly father, a crippled son, a lovely schoolteacher and an innocent imprisoned".
William Rothman considers both The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle to be "equally worthy of study". The Cine Tirol Film Commission has described The Mountain Eagle as "the most wanted film in the world". In 1992, the British Film Institute released its first "Missing Presumed Lost" list of films, and in January 2010 they announced that they had begun actively searching for some 75 missing films, including The Mountain Eagle; A Study in Scarlet (1914), which features the first screen appearance of the Sherlock Holmes character; The First Men in the Moon (1919), which is the first H. G. Wells-adapted science-fiction; and Dinah Shurey's The Last Post (1929).