Two movies in, and the project is already in trouble.
1926 was a big year for Alfred Hitchcock. The Pleasure Garden had been a bit of an ordeal. On the advice of his cinematographer, in order to save money, he hadn't declared the motion picture film upon entering Italy. The customs agents weren't fooled; they confiscated the film, and it cost more money to have new film sent from Germany. He had the aforementioned incident with the actress who refused to go into the water while having her period; Hitchcock was so naive, he didn't know what a period was. He didn't care for the actor playing the villain.
Still, he had already proven to be a resourceful director. He convinced a waitress at a hotel to step in for the reluctant swimmer. He saved time and money by shooting extra material on the boat trip to the location. He finished the movie on time, and got pretty strong reviews. All in all, it was a superb first outing. So the studio was more than happy to hand him the reins for another film. The Mountain Eagle.
I haven't watched The Mountain Eagle. Why not? Well... why don't I let my friends at Wikipedia explain.
This is the only Hitchcock directed feature that is considered lost. No prints have been known to survive.
And boy, is it lost. How lost is it? Okay, you see that dog up there, in the movie poster? To this day, nobody knows what role (if any) the dog plays in the film. (He is clearly neither mountain nor eagle.) As far as I know, no one alive today has seen it. Certainly not our biographer, Patrick McGilligan. Nobody at all. And definitely not me.
So, that's just swell. My quest is stopped in its tracks before it has barely begun.
Look, it's not as though I was going to abandon the project. I mean, you can't really hold it against me that a movie doesn't exist anymore. And there's 51 movies to go. Besides, Hitchcock himself hated the movie. But it just killed me that I wouldn't be able to truly complete the entire Hitchcock oeuvre.
Cue Dan Aulier.
Stuck in my progress in the biography, I was doing some outside research, thumbing through a copy of Aulier's Hitchcock's Notebooks, when I made the surprising discovery of his surprising discovery. It seems that, although the film is lost, Hitchcock himself had a complete set of production stills. And Aulier was kind enough to reprint them in his book, along with a brief synopsis. So I couldn't watch The Mountain Eagle. But I could do the next best thing.
The story alone would classify this as a weird film. In the snowy mountains of Kentucky (?), we meet our main character: a nasty fellow named Pettigrew, who evidently hates everyone. Pettigrew's wife dies giving birth to a crippled boy. Pettigrew directs most of his anger at this mountain-dwelling hermit named John, who most people call "Fear o' God".
Cut to twenty-some-odd years later, when the son is now putting the moves on the local schoolmarm named Beatrice (played by movie beauty Nita Naldi, who Hitchcock had to browbeat into dressing down). Pettigrew goes to confront her about this, and ends up making advances on her himself. She turns him down, and the son disappears, probably out of embarrassment.
So now, Pettigrew is really angry. He tries to get Beatrice arrested as, and I turn to Wikipedia again for this description, "a wanton harlot." That's Fear o' God's cue to show up, marry Beatrice, take her back to his cabin in the woods, and get her pregnant. Facing these new developments, Pettigrew takes a new tack: he has Fear o' God arrested for murdering his missing son. Yes, this is a guy who loves to hate.
Fear o' God escapes the law, but not for long. He becomes ill, and Beatrice has to drag him into town for treatment. There Pettigrew is about to claim his victory... until his long-lost son suddenly shows up! Yes, the whole murder thing is out the window, and to top it off, somehow (the how is not made at all clear), Pettigrew is accidentally shot. So, truly a happy ending for everyone.
It would be strange enough that Hitchcock & company shot a film set in Kentucky in the mountains of Germany. (The snow was so heavy at one location that Hitch paid the local fire department to hose it away.) But this plot... it's just beyond bizarre. Why does Pettigrew hate so much? Why does Fear o' God rescue Beatrice? Why is everyone in the movie trying to get up her skirts? What is the heck is going on?
Want to see how weird this movie is? Here's your chance to see more of The Mountain Eagle than almost anyone alive. This was the only still I could find in Google Images, but I think it tells the tale.
Who is that handsome fellow? Who knows? Seems like he must be Fear o' God, but who can be sure? The important thing is, whoever that's supposed to be, it's a character in this film. Someone decided that the Cryptkeeper look was ideal for this movie. To which I can merely say, Wow.
I can't assess Hitchcock on this one, not without seeing the movie. But he didn't like the movie, and you kind of have to defer to his judgment on this. But I do know that, no matter how bad the movie may have been, things weren't all bad. It was around this time that he proposed marriage to Alma. And she said yes. (They were on a ship, and she was sick. Hitchcock said it was the only way he could trick her into it.) So he had a steady career, and now he was a newlywed. Good times.
Oh, and he was about to make his first great movie. That one, Netflix has.