While combing through a New Zealand film vault, researchers have recovered the legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest credited film, The White Shadow, from a collection of unidentified American nitrate prints that were transferred over the New Zealand archive in 1989.
Graham Cutts is director of the film, but Hitchcock, then 24, is credited with writing the film as well as being its assistant director, editor and art director. According to the New Zealand Film Archive, only three reels of the six-reel film are known to have survived. And these three reels, more than half the film, span only about 30 minutes, which certainly adds the characteristic Hitchcockian suspense we’ve all come to know and revere to the film.
First released in 1924, three years before Hitchcock broke into the film industry, part of the excitement of recovering the film is that it provides insight into the “missing link” in Hitchcock’s transformation from an obscure fiction writer to a legendary director, the chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and author of “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock,” David Sterrit, said. He added in a statement that it “offer[s] a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.”
“He was a creative young man who had already done some writing,” Sterritt, a Hitchcock expert, told the LA Times. “We know the creative personality he had when he was young and we know a few years later he started directing movies himself. What we don’t know is how these things were coalescing in his imagination.”
Mislabeled as “Twin Sisters” due to the missing opening credits, The White Shadow, according to film archivists, is “a wild, atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one angelic and the other ‘without a soul.’ ”
It features “mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity, steamy cabarets, romance, chance meetings, madness, and even the transmigration of souls,” according to the film archive’s release. “Critics faulted the improbable story but praised the acting and ‘cleverness of the production.’ ”
Using the stars of the film, the distributor and the storylines, the researchers were able to link the film to movie reviews from the time in order to make a positive identification.
According to the film archive, when The White Shadow is restored plans will be made for public screenings. So, will you be attending a screening? Think he snuck any of his later techniques in?