Previously undiscovered footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s first film has been discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive.
The first 30 minutes of 1923 silent film The White Shadow, considered to be Hitchcock’s first credit, was discovered in a collection of unidentified American nitrate prints that had been kept at the New Zealand archive since 1989.
Hitchcock was 24 when the film was made and was the writer, assistant director, editor and production designer on the melodrama, which starred Clive Brook and Betty Compson as twin sisters – one good and one evil.
Only the first three reels of the six-reel film have been found; no other copy is known to exist.
The White Shadow 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 Film Archive for safekeeping by his grandson Tony Osborne.
Tony Osborne says his grandfather was “an avid collector” who some might have seen as eccentric.
“He would be quietly amused by all the attention now generated by these important film discoveries,” he says.
Chairman of the National Society of Film Critics David Sterritt called the discovery “one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work”.
He says The White Shadow “offers a priceless opportunity to study [Hitchcock’s] visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape”.
As well as The White Shadow, many other titles have been identified for preservation amongst the latest find.
They include the early Technicolor film The Love Charm (1928), early narratives from pioneering woman directors Muriel Ostriche and Alice Guy, a 1920 dance demonstration by ballerina-choreographer Albertina Rasch, and a fragment from the Keystone Kops’ lost slapstick comedy In the Clutches of the Gang (1914).
The ‘lost’ films will be preserved over the next three years in association with US film organisations. Plans for a re-premiere screening of The White Shadow are expected to be announced in the near future.