Dateline: August 2, 2011
Just in time for the filmmaker’s 112th birthday, archivists and preservationists in New Zealand have announced the discovery of the first half of a 1924 film thought to be Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest surviving feature.
For The White Shadow, an atmospheric British melodrama picked up for international distribution by Hollywood’s Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises, Hitchcock is credited as assistant director, art director, editor and writer. He was 24 when he worked on the film; his feature directorial debut would come soon afterward on The Pleasure Garden (1925).
The film, which stars Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters — one angelic and the other “without a soul” — turned up among the cache of unidentified American nitrate prints safeguarded at the New Zealand Film Archive in Wellington. The first three reels of the six-reel feature were found; no other copy is known to exist.
“These first three reels of The White Shadow — more than half the film — offer a priceless opportunity to study [Hitchcock’s] visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape,” said David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock.
The title will be preserved at Park Road Post Production in New Zealand, and a new preservation master and exhibition print will be sent to the U.S. Plans for a “re-premiere” screening will be announced this week.
The Hitchcock film was among the many silent-era movies salvaged by New Zealand projectionist and collector Jack Murtagh. After his death in 1989, the highly flammable nitrate prints were sent to the NZFA for safekeeping by Tony Osborne, the collector’s grandson.