Three reels of the silent film The White Shadow, thought to be the first credited film work of Alfred Hitchcock, have been discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive. The 1924 film, for which Hitchcock received writer, assistant director, editor and production designer credits, was previously believed to be entirely lost. The three reels equally about 30 minutes or a little over half the film’s reported run time.
The reels were part of a collection to donated to the Film Archive in 1989 by Tony Osborne, the grandson of collector Jack Murtaugh who had acquired a number of old silent nitrate prints when he was a projectionist.Funding at the time allowed for preservation of the New Zealand-produced films in the collection but the rest sat un-cataloged until the NZFA received a grant that would allow for an archivist to sort through the remaining nitrate prints.
The film dealt with a set of twins – one, good, one evil and both played by Betty Compson, hence the reels being discovered in canisters marked “Twin Sisters.” It was Leslie Lewis of the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) who did the detective work to identify the film.
David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, put the discovery into perspective for the Hollywood Reporter –
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.
Hitchcock with direct his first feature film, 1925’s The Pleasure Garden, soon after finishing work on The White Shadow.
The White Shadow will have its “re-premiere” on September 22 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater. A copy of the silent film will be added to the Academy’s Hitchcock collection, which also includes the director’s papers and letters.
Previously, this New Zealand cache of nitrate prints yielded up a copy of John Ford’s Upstream, which was also thought to have been lost. Who knows what other treasures may be lurking their, waiting to be discovered.