This week the History Channel is running a six-hour presentation of America’s most famous feud, the murderous, longstanding grudge match between the Hatfield and McCoy families living along border between Kentucky and West Virginia.
I am from a small town on the Ohio River not far from there, so I knew of this feud as part of the local lore decades after it ended. I’m somewhat surprised that people from Hollywood also remember it and think viewers will want to watch, but I guess I shouldn’t be. The Hatfields and McCoys didn’t merely kill each other. Their feud was more like a Grimm Brothers fairytale of epic proportions, a morality play about disloyalty, perceived injustice, and revenge.
But here’s something that hardly anyone knows about the Hatfields and McCoys: Alfred Hitchcock (one of my favorite directors) made a silent movie that was almost certainly inspired by them. How else can you explain a British movie studio in the 1920s coming up with a story about a “hillbilly” love scandal featuring multigenerational conflict between two Kentucky families? Called The Mountain Eagle (Fear o’ God in its United States release), it was filmed during Hitchcock’s Berlin apprenticeship and shot in Austria’s Tyrol, with the Alps as a stand-in for the Appalachians of Kentucky.
The film has been lost for decades and is the only Hitchcock feature film of which no surviving print remains.