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Hitchcock Annual (1998) - Hitchcock's "The Mountain Eagle"




1. Introduction

The Mountain Eagle is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock for which no print has yet been found. Recently, in Eyles and Meeker's Missing, Believed Lost: The Great British Film Search (25-26), it was named as one of the hundred most wanted "lost" British films. But, other than some archival inquiries described by Hammerton, little research has been reported. It is the purpose of this paper to contribute to this search by publicizing my own research findings. If the film is indeed lost, then an exhaustive exposition will not be in vain, but rather fill a void in our knowledge of Hitchcock's creative genius.

It is not unusual to find rare prints of old films. A print of The Blackguard (1924), a film to which Hitchcock contributed a great deal, recently surfaced in Russia and was shown in London during May 1996 at the National Film Theatre as part of an early Hitchcock series.1 And a recent discovery keeps alive the hope of finding The Mountain Eagle in America: as reported in the press (Lovell), a rare tinted print of The Pleasure Garden was found in Waco, Texas, in 1992. According to The Film Year Book 1927 (418), The Mountain Eagle was brought to the United States in 1926 with a group of other Gainsborough films by the American distributor Arthur Lee for the Lee-Bradford (Artlee) company. Since this group of films also included The Pleasure Garden, it follows that, because of the missing film's proximity in space and time with The Pleasure Garden, it is not unreasonable to hope that The Mountain Eagle will also be found, perhaps even in the southwestern United States.

2. The Synopses

In The Mountain Eagle section of Truffaut's dialogue with Hitchcock, as translated into English, Truffaut states, "I have the scenario here." (He then proceeds to give a two-sentence summary of the story.) His statement about the scenario is, however, a translation from the French. What was said in the French version, Le Cinéma Selon Alfred Hitchcock, is "J'ai là un résumé du scénario ..."; he is referring to a "synopsis." Thus, our hopes of obtaining a full treatment of the film from this source are dashed.

Our knowledge of the plot is derived, basically, from The Bioscope and Kinematograph Weekly reviews following the London trade show on 1 October 1926. Three other synopses are given in the Hitchcock literature, Noble (6-7), Yacowar (29-30), Sloan (49), but they all stem from the Bioscope review.

For the convenience of the reader, the Bioscope synopsis is reproduced here2 (the remaining part of the review is given in Section 4):

The Story: Beatrice Brent, school teacher in a small mountain village, incurs the enmity of Pettigrew, the local Justice of the Peace and owner of the village stores, because he believes that she encourages the attentions of his son Edward, a cripple, who takes evening lessons. Pettigrew, whiïe questioning Beatrice, is himself influenced by her charm and attempts liberties which she strongly resents. He is so furious at the rebuff that he proclaims her as a wanton and she is driven from the village by the inhabitants. Beatrice is saved from their fury by a mysterious stranger known as Fearogod, who lives a solitary life in a cabin to which he takes her for shelter. To stop all scandal, Fearogod takes Beatrice down to the village and compels Pettigrew to marry them, explaining to her that he will help her to get a divorce. Beatrice, however, is content to leave the situation as it is, but Pettigrew, furious with rage, takes advantage of the fact that his son has left the village and arrests Fearogod for his murder. In spite of the fact that there is no vestige of evidence that young Pettigrew has been murdered, Fearogod is kept in prison for over a year, when he decides to escape. He finds that his wife has a baby and he goes off with them to the mountains. When they find that the baby is taken ill, Fearogod goes back to the village for a doctor, where he sees old Pettigrew. Some doubt as to which of the men is going to attack the other first is settled by an onlooker firing off a gun which wounds Pettigrew in the shoulder. The sudden return of his son Edward convinces the old man of the futility of proceeding with his accusation of murder, so he makes the best of matters by shaking hands with the man he has persecuted and all is supposed to end happily. (47-48)

The review in Kinematograph Weekly gives us additional background and information about the relationships among the characters. The synopsis part of the review begins:

Pettigrew, J.P. of a small mountain village, hates John Fulton, a lonely dweller in the mountains, known as Fearogod to the inhabitants, as much as he loves his son Edward, who was born a cripple as his mother, whom Fulton had also loved, died. Pettigrew sees his son apparently making love to Beatrice Talbot, the village schoolmistress, and, going to reprove her, he tries to take her in his arms. The son sees this, and leaves the village. Pettigrew determines to have Beatrice thrown out, but Fearogod intervenes, and takes her to his cabin. Pettigrew here sees the chance to arrest Fearogod for abduction and Beatrice as a wanton, but Fearogod forestalls him by coming and demanding that Pettigrew marry them. The pair then fall in love ... (66-67)

Kinematogmph Weekly also mentions another plot element in criticizing the production as "a story which is too full of unconvincing twists. For instance, there appears to be no reason why Beatrice could not have communicated earlier with Edward, who had written her a letter before her husband's arrest."

It is of interest to analyze the synopses given in the literature. Noble's version is apparently a slightly edited crib of the Bioscope synopsis. Thus, comparing the Bioscope synopsis with Noble's leads...

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A version of this paper, entitled "Filmography Notes on The Mountain Eagle," was presented at the Hitchcock Conference, Austin, Texas, 22-24 March 1996, sponsored by the Hitchcock Annual and Baylor University.

  1. Although The Blackguard was not directed by Hitchcock, it was one in a series of films over which he exercised a large measure of control as scenarist, art director (i.e., set or production designer), and assistant director. It was the fourth film in what we shall call the Balcon-Cutts-Hitchcock-Reville series : Producer, Michael Balcon; director, Graham Cutts; general factotum, Alfred Hitchcock; editor, script supervisor, and second assistant, Alma Reville. The titles in the series are: Woman to Woman, The White Shadow, The Passionate Adventure, The Blackguard, and The Prude's Fall. The Blackguard and The Passionate Adventure are also included in the list of Gainsborough-Lee films cited in The Film Year Book 1927 as brought to America in addition to The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle. But a fifth title, Dangerous Virtue, also appears. The author is here announcing for the first time a significant Hitchcock filmography discovery, namely, the identification of Dangerous Virtue as the U.S. title of The Prude's Fall. Consequently, we urge curators of film libraries with holdings of silent films to check their collections for tins labeled Dangerous Virtue as well as The Mountain Eagle and the other titles.
  2. The Bioscope review is reprinted by permission of the British Film Institute.
  3. The location in Kentucky may possibly stem from Hitchcock's statement, "When I read the script I found it was set in the Kentucky hills," given in the 1937 article, "Life Among the Stars," reprinted in Gottlieb (34). Hitchcock makes no such reference in either the Bogdanovich or Truffaut interviews. The imputed Kentucky location has dogged this film since its early citations in the literature. For example, Spoto (82, 97) refers to it as being about "Kentucky hillbillies," which brings to mind an image both humorous and disparaging.
  4. Sloan's treatment of barmy Ben in her synopsis of Rebecca (161) is not so kind; Ben is described as "a deranged drifter."
  5. Hammerton (4, 5-6) cites a Reichsfilmblatt review and a Kinematograph review in "material held by the Deutsches Institut für Filmkunde." The author has yet to examine these.
  6. The caption to this photograph describes Alma Reville as "scriptgirl," as does Truffaut in his caption on a cropped version of the same photograph in his book (38). Actually, in the Hitchcock-Truffaut dialogue, Hitchcock refers to Reville as both editor and script girl, pointing out that these two functions were performed by the same person. Alma Reville's role at Famous Players-Lasky and Gainsborough was of considerable more importance than the term "script girl" would suggest. In fact, she was the subject of a profile, "Alma in Wonderland," in The Picturegoer, December 1925, several months before Hitchcock was heralded as "Alfred the Great" in the same publication.
  7. It is perhaps unfair to single out Simone. The ability to count the "surviving stills" does not seem to be a general characteristic of Hitchcock scholars. Thus Eyles and Meeker say "the five surviving stills" as does Hammerton in her original paper. Mogg, in his editorial amendment of Hammerton, says "the half-dozen," undoubtedly being familiar with Truffaut but mistakenly omitting the word "possibly" or a similar qualification. However, it must be apparent to anyone with access to both Eyles and Meeker and Truffaut, that there must be, at the very least, nine: three in Eyles and Meeker and not in Truffaut, four in Truffaut and not in Eyles and Meeker, and two in both books. Of course we now know there are a great many more.
  8. I am referring to Bioscope advertisements only, based on my examination of the microfilm copy. According to ambiguous citations in Hammerton's original paper it seems that there does exist, in the trade press, a four-page advertisement for The Mountain Eagle. But neither the BFI nor myself have been able to locate it. First Hammerton says: "The story was based on a novel by Charles Lapworth." To this she puts a footnote: "This information was gleaned from the trade show advertisement from The Bioscope September 23, 1926." Later she states: "The Kinematograph Weekly of September 23rd, 1926 carried a four page advertisement for the trade show of 'The Mountain Eagle.'" But I had previously examined The Bioscope on microfilm, page by page, and found nothing other than the references reported in Section 4. So I rechecked my work (and for the issues before and after 23 September). I also checked for missing pages by counting from the cover if the page numbers were not clear. I also checked the index of advertisers, in this case, the distributor W. & F. As for the Kinematograph Weekly, David Sharp, Deputy Head, Library and Information Services, BFI, in correspondence with me reported that he checked the issue for 23 September 1926, and issues on either side of the 23rd, both in hard copy and on microfilm, but was unable to find this ad.
    Hence there is a mystery. My guess is that there might be an unpaginated supplement or insert of some sort to The Bioscope in hard copy that is not on the microfilm.
  9. Spoto (65) puts this event with the return from location shooting on The Prude's Fall. The unproductive location travel for The Prude's Fall took place in Southern Europe, and I have found no evidence in the literature that Alma was along. The Kiel boat indicates a return from Berlin. Spoto's narrative about this period in Hitchcock's life can be pretty much disregarded with the single exception of the important, mouth-watering detail about the existence of a Hitchcock-Reville correspondence on the subject of motion pictures. From Spoto's confusion of dates, we surmise he tried to reconcile his narrative with the filmography errors of Noble, in particular, the dating of The Prude's Fall, the release date of The Pleasure Garden, and the casting of Nita Naldi in The Pleasure Garden. Spoto's account of this actually has a narrative, rather than a mere error in cast listing, that puts Nita Naldi in The Pleasure Garden as the native girl. That this is an absurd filmography goof is apparent from an examination of the stills from The Pleasure Garden (see, for example, Truffaut 35, 37), which makes it obvious that the native girl is not Nita Naldi. This error, which is traceable at least to Noble, persists to the present day (e.g., Sloan 43). Also, Spoto's production and shooting schedule of The Lodger is at considerable variance from the trade journal news releases.
  10. A slip of the pen could account for the error: it could be corrected by replacing "few weeks" by "year." On the other hand, perhaps Hitchcock is revealing a romantic Paris tryst with Miss Reville a year before their marriage.
  11. Lamprecht (702) gives the production period at Emelka to be January-March 1926. But we know that location shooting in the Tyrol took place in fall of 1925, and that Hitchcock returned to England in December. So the period must refer to preparation of the German version.
  12. To dispel the myth (Kapsis 18-19; Sloan 48n) that The Pleasure Garden had no public release prior to The Lodger, the reader is invited to examine The Times (London), April 12, 1926, p. 12, col. 4.
  13. This listing from Lamprecht (702) is the only information known to us at present that ties an actual theatrical performance of The Mountain Eagle to a particular theater on a particular date.
  14. Manvell and Fraenkel state that Emelka was "founded by the celebrated Ostermayr brothers, Peter, Franz and Ottmar, who before the war had specialized in Bavarian scenic films going back to earlier years" (12). In an illuminating trade journal item the actor Miles Mander reveals that the unique name "Emelka" is simply the phonetic transcription of the initials "M.L.K." abbreviating the generic name "Münchener Lichtspiel-Kunst" (literally "Munich Photoplay Crafts/Arts/Works"). Mander describes the Emelka facilities situated at Geiselgasteig outside of Munich. There is a possibility that because of the Bavarian scenic connection the Tyrol setting of The Mountain Eagle was planned to exploit the studio's specialization.
  15. According to her 1961 obituary, Naldi missed by one day a $5,000 bequest from Diana Barrymore, whose estate had been settled the day before Naldi's death. Also, that she was born "Anita," as stated by Spoto (80), seems to have been a publicity man's dream. Talese has given us a 1955 profile of Naldi.
  16. It should be pointed out here that Hitchcock sometimes had the habit of disparaging his own stars and films, perhaps for the sake of an anecdote, and this has, unfortunately, been passed on by subsequent critics in their dismissal of such films as The Mountain Eagle, Waltzes from Vienna, and Jamaica Inn. These writers may have not even seen the films themselves and, by suggesting that Hitchcock rejected them, may make it more difficult for the rest of us to screen them and make up our own mind.
    Sometimes a put-down of a film occurs through Hitchcock's apparent desire not to confront an interviewer. The most surprising of these is Truffaut's statement that Foreign Correspondent was a "B" film (Truffaut 133). Truffaut obviously did not know what the term meant in the Hollywood parlance of the time. I can only imagine that Truffaut was subjectively comparing the film to other Hitchcock films. But according to the objective meaning of the term, Foreign Correspondent was in no way a "B" film; as well as having great artistic merit and being a critical and commercial success, it was one of the big-budget pictures of all time, loaded with production "values." When books such as Truffaut's are used uncritically as texts in film appreciation classes, the effects can be particularly regrettable.
  17. Sometimes the length of a film is grossly represented as number of reels, 1,000 feet per reel. In that case, if the length of the film were represented to the Yearbook as six reels (corresponding to a length of 5,302 feet) the Yearbook, to be uniform in their reporting of length, might report 6,000 feet, the last three digits being insignificant.
  18. As noted in Section 1, Lee-Bradford (Artlee) was the American distributor for the early Gainsborough films. The firm was run by Arthur Lee; for further information see The Bioscope, 30 September 1926 (37), and The Film Daily, 3 November 1926 (1).
  19. Noble gives no source for his statement that the U.S. title was "Fear O'God." He does, however, state that the title "appears in certain reference books, e.g. "The World Film Encyclopaedia,' edited by Clarence Winchester (London 1933)." In an attempt to be exhaustive in tracking down the title, we examined the citation. Since this is an English reference work it is a mystery why the title "Fear O'God" is used. The work has a minuscule one-paragraph biography of Hitchcock and lists the director's films through Number Seventeen, plus Lord Camber's Ladies (but in some kind of random order). The "Fear O'God" reference seems to be self-confirming. For example, Hammerton (5) reports that an inquiry to the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, yielded a reference to the "Fear O'God" title as appearing on a poster held by them. Alas, in my own follow-up, the Curator of the Division stated that all that can be found is a catalog card that gives "Fear O'God" as a subtitle. But on the card itself the name appears to be a crossreference, common to most cinema libraries, where to an index for The Mountain Eagle is automatically added "U.S. title: Fear O'God" or a notation to that effect.
  20. The work done by Hammerton on the UK performance history seems to have been limited to an examination of the trade journals and previously catalogued material held in archives to which she addressed her inquiries. She does not cite The Kinematograph Year Book.
  21. Errors about release date are not just a phenomenon from the twenties. An example of a release date error for Hitchcock's last film occurs in Phillips (206). The world premiere of Family Plot took place at the 1976 Filmex, 21 March, in Los Angeles and was attended by the director. Hitchcock not only participated in the ballyhoo, but even starred in a short movie of himself entering the theater, which became live action inside the theater. How appropriate for his last film! In the twenties, stage action was incorporated into movie action for special performances; for example, The Blackguard and Downhill had such presentations.
  22. The Hitchcock Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences contains a number of scrapbooks of press clippings on the early films. These scrapbooks are obviously the product of a clipping service since the most minor items have been saved (e.g., a three-line booking item from The Mining Journal). Unfortunately, the earliest scrapbook is for The Lodger.

Works Cited

  • "Alma in Wonderland." The Picturegoer, December 1925, 48.
  • Belfrage, Cedric. "Alfred the Great." The Picturegoer, March 1926, 60.
  • Blake, W.N. "Abolish Release Date!" The Bioscope, 17 July 1929, 28.
  • Bogdanovich, Peter. The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: The Museum of Modern Art Film Library, 1963.
  • Brownlow, Kevin. "Suent Films, What Was the Right Speed?" Sight and Sound, 49, No. 3 (1980): 164‑167.
  • Collier, Lionel. "Trade Shows Surveyed." Kinematograph Weekly, 7 October 1926, 64.
  • Eyles, Alien and David Meeker, Missing, Believed Lost: The Great British Film Search. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.
  • The Film Year Book 1927. New York and Los Angeles: The Film Daily, John W. Alicoate, Publisher, 1927, 418.
  • Gifford, Denis. The British Film Catalogue 1895‑1985: A Reference Guide. London: David & Charles, 1986.
  • Gottlieb, Sidney, ed. Hitchcock on Hitchcock, Selected Writings and Interviews. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Hammerton, Jenny. "Missing, Believed Lost: Hitchcock's "The Mountain Eagle." The MacGuffin No. 16 (August 1995): 3‑7.
  • Kapsis, Robert E. Hitchcock, The Making of a Reputation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
  • The Kinematograph Year Book 1928, Kinematograph Weekly, 106.
  • Kuhns, J.L. "Comments on 'Alfred Hitchcock's Easy Virtue (1927): A Descriptive Shot List.' " Hitchcock Annual (1995‑96): 126‑133.
  • Lamprecht, Gerhard. Deutsche Stummfilme 1923‑1926. Berlin: Deutsche Kinemathek, 1967. [This reference was brought to my attention by the BFI. In addition to Der Bergadler (The Mountain Eagle), there are listings for Die Prinzessin und der Geiger (English title: The Blackguard) and Irrgarten der Leidenschaft (The Pleasure Garden).]
  • Lovell, Glenn. "Hitchcock's first film: The first dark glimmers of thrills to come." San Jose Mercury News, Arts & Books, 30 May 1993,13. [This is a news item about The Pleasure Garden, written in conjunction with an Early Hitchcock Film Festival held at Stanford University, 4 June‑18 July 1993. In the program, the print of this film is noted to be tinted. What is relevant for us is the detail about the discovery of the print: "The 55‑minute silent‑found last year in Waco, Texas, and restored by Southwest Film & Video Archives at Southern Methodist University in Dallas‑will have its area premiere Wednesday as part of Stanford Theater's Early Hitchcock program. It is thought to be the only print in existence in the United States and Canada."]
  • Low, Rachael. The History of the British Film (1918‑1929). London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971.
  • Mander, Miles. "Production Methods in Bavaria." Kinematograph Weekly, 10 September 1925, 54.
  • Manvell, Roger and Heinrich Fraenkel, The German Cinema. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.
  • Motion Picture News/Booking Guide (April 1927). [This is a periodical available at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library.]
  • "The Mountain Eagle." The Bioscope, 7 October 1926, 47‑48.
  • "The Mountain Eagle." Kinematograph Weekly, 7 October 1926, 66‑67.
  • Noble, Peter. "An Index to the Creative Work of Alfred Hitchcock." Sight and Sound supplement, Index Series, no. 18, London, 1949.
  • Phillips, Gene D. Alfred Hitchcock. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
  • Rohmer, Eric and Claude Chabrol. Hitchcock, the First Forty-Four Films. Trans. S. Hochman. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1979.
  • Simone, Sam P. Hitchcock as Activist: Politics and the War Films. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1982.
  • Sloan, Jane E. Alfred Hitchcock: A Guide to References and Resources, New York: G.K. Hall & Co., 1993. [The title on the cover of the paperback edition of this book is Alfred Hitchcock: The Definitive Filmography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), but its title‑page and Library of Congress title is Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography.]
  • Spoto, Donald. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983.
  • Talese, Gay J. "Then and Now." The New York Times Magazine, 16 October 1955.
  • Taylor, John Russell. Hitch, The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978
  • Truffaut, Francois, with the collaboration of Helen Scott. Hitchcock. rev. edition, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
  • Truffaut, Francois, with the collaboration of Helen Scott. Le Cinéma Selon Hitchcock. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1966.
  • Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock's British Films. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1977.


The author is grateful to Mr. David K. Sharp, Deputy Head, Library and User Services, British Film Institute, for providing personal research help in the preparation of this article.

J.L. Kuhns, a mathematician and logician, has published papers in applied logic and information science. He has been a student of Hitchcock's work since first seeing Jamaica Inn on December 2, 1939.