Three reels of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest surviving feature film, 1924’s The White Shadow have been found by archivists working in New Zealand. Hitchcock, then just 24-years-old was the assistant director, art director, editor, and wrote the film, which which starred actress Betty Compton as twins, one good and, you guessed it, one who is evil. Although incomplete, the film offers a glimpse at the great director’s budding vision.
From the Hollywood Reporter:
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 White Shadow was one of several silent films saved by New Zealand film collector Jack Murtagh, who died in 1989. There will be an announcement this week about a U.S. screening. Some of Hitchock’s silent films (The Lodger, The Ring, Blackmail and The Pleasure Garden) are getting new scores in preparation for a BFI retrospective in London that will a part of the Cultural Olympiad festival next summer.