Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production company: Gainsborough Pictures/Münchner Lichtspielkunst AG (Emelka)
Producer: Michael Balcon
Assistant director: Alma Reville
Scenario: Eliot Stannard, Max Ferner
Story: Charles Lapworth
Art direction: Ludwig Reiber, Willy Reiber
Cinematography: Baron Ventimiglia
Cast: Bernard Goetzke (Pettigrew), Nita Naldi (Beatrice Brent), Malcolm Keen (John Fulton, known as Fearogod), John Hamilton (Edward Pettigrew), Ferdinand Martini
Distributor: W & F
Bernard Goetzke (Pettigrew), in The Mountain Eagle
Good evening once again, and welcome to the latest screening at the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films. Today we find ourselves in London’s Tottenham Court Road at the Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre (recently renamed the Super, but we prefer the old name), a marvellous venue which seats 1,000 of you, and has room for full orchestra and a pipe organ, which will be played for us by that nonpareil of silent film accompanists, Florence de Jong. Prepared to be stirred!
Our film this evening is the second feature film to be directed by a most promising talent for our British film industry, Mr Alfred Hitchcock. The film is The Mountain Eagle, which follows his The Pleasure Garden of the previous year. Mr Hitchcock has been a little dismissive of his latest work, something that we prefer to ascribe to a commendable modesty.
The film is excitingly set in the Kentucky hills, though you may be surprised to learn that the production was in fact filmed in the Austrian Tyrol, with studio scenes taken in Munich (we understand that some interiors were also filmed in Paris). The film’s producer Mr Michael Balcon has been keen to encourage co-productions with Germany, and many of you will remember that excellent film The Blackguard, made in 1925.
But what story does it tell? We can do no better than to provide you with the synopsis given in The Bioscope (a journal naturally close to our hearts):
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, while 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 strange 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, whe 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 doubts as to which of them 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.
Production crew for The Mountain Eagle on location in the Austrian Tyrol
This is a remarkably intense, elemental drama of family passion. Mr Hitchcock has produced a powerful melodrama clearly inspired by its rugged mountain surroundings. Some critics have complained that the direction is a little too slow, and that Mr Hitchcock has perhaps not quite grasped the German style he has aimed for, while others complain that the supposed setting in Kentucky seems more than a little implausible. But if British films are to succeed in America they must tempt that huge potential audience with American subjects. This also explains the presence of that up and coming star Nita Naldi (you will remember her from Blood and Sand), even if she does appear less than comfortable with her role. Praise is due to that talented yet strangely underrated Italian cinematographer, Baron Ventimiglia, who has contributed so much to the film’s brooding expressionism. That thoughtful and sophisticated scenarist Eliot Stannard has a way of binding character and narrative that helps bring out the nascent genius that we suspect lies in Mr Hitchcock – even if some feel that the number of intertitles are excessive. This is the work of a strong team, even if the subject matter has not perhaps quite brought out the best in each of them.
In America, the film is to be known as Fearogod, while in Germany it is Der Bergadler. Here it has become The Mountain Eagle, though we must confess we are unsure who or what the mountain eagle is supposed to be. In truth, this has been a somewhat troubled production, but undoubtedly an essential part of the learning process for the promising Alfred Hitchcock, who now tells us he is working on an adaptation of Mrs Belloc Lowndes’ thrilling novel, The Lodger, which sounds to be a property ideally suited to this young man’s talents. We shall follow his progress with interest.
Ernest Thesiger and Clare Greet in Number 13
The lost short that accompanies our main feature is something of a coup. Gainsborough Studios has made available to us the rushes from Alfred Hitchcock’s uncompleted Number 13, which was to have been his first solo film as a director (he had taken over the direction of the two-reel Always Tell You Wife, one reel of which survives). Filmed at Islington Studios in 1922, this drama (also given the name Mrs Peabody), was to have starred Ernest Thesiger and Clare Greet. The shoot was a troubled one, and production on the two-reeler was halted after only a few scenes were shot.
Do join us tomorrow for the final screening of the Bioscope Festival of Lost Films, when we shall be at the Circle in the Square, in Leicester Square. We can promise you something truly sensational with which to round off the festival…