Lost Hitchcock Film Discovered in New Zealand
The New Zealand Film Archive and the NFPF are thrilled to announce the discovery of a lost work with credits by celebrated British/American filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980). The print is incomplete—only the first three reels survive—but what has been recovered reveals a master in the making.
The film is The White Shadow, an atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson, in a dual role as twin sisters—one angelic and the other “without a soul.” With mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity, steamy cabarets, romance, chance meetings, madness, and even the transmigration of souls, the wild plot crams a lot into six reels. Critics faulted the improbable story but praised the acting and “cleverness of the production.”
Hitchcock broke into the British film industry in 1920 as a title-card designer. Within three years, he was writing scripts, designing sets, and taking every production role thrown his way. The White Shadow appears to be the earliest surviving feature credited to Hitchcock, the film’s writer, assistant director, art director, and editor. Commented David Sterritt, author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock:
This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work. At just twenty-four years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the film’s scenario, designed the sets, edited the footage, and served as assistant director to Graham Cutts, whose professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging….These first three reels of The White Shadow—more than half the film—offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.
The tinted print of The White Shadow was uncovered during the NFPF’s second round of research to identify early American films at the New Zealand Film Archive. A British feature released in January 1924, the film survives as an American exhibition print distributed by Hollywood’s Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises. The distributor’s logo appears on some of the intertitles, contributing to the assumption that the production was American. (For a slide show on how the film was identified, CLICK HERE .) The reels will be preserved at Park Road Post Production in New Zealand and a new preservation master and exhibition print sent to the United States. Additional prints will be made for the New Zealand Film Archive and for the British Film Institute. Plans for the “re-premiere” screening will be announced later this week.
The film is among some 60-odd titles identified in December 2010 during the wrap-up research foray, funded by a $22,000-grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (The Foundation’s first grant of $21,200 supported the initial research in February and March of 2010.) The final group of films will join the 75 discovered last year and now in the NFPF’s preservation queue, thanks to private donations and the support of a Save America’s Treasures grant, funded by the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The White Shadow survives today thanks to New Zealand projectionist Jack Murtagh, a passionate movie collector, and the New Zealand Film Archive. Cinema lovers everywhere salute their stewardship.
To find out how you can support the preservation of the “lost” films recovered in New Zealand, click here.