Early Alfred Hitchcock Film Rediscovered! The White Shadow (1923)

by on August 3, 2011Posted in: News on the March

Restoration Early Work Discovered New Zealand Film Archive Preservation Evil Twin
Joan Collins plays twin sisters–one good, one evil!–in Alfred Hitchcock’s The White Shadow (1923).

Great news from the The National Film Preservation Foundation and The New Zealand Film Archive:

After a world-wide search, a large part of The White Shadow (1923), thought to be the earliest surviving feature by Alfred Hitchcock[,] the celebrated master of suspense has been found in New Zealand—just in time for the filmmaker’s 112th birthday.

But just wait until you hear the plot synopsis:

The White Shadow [is] an atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson, in a dual role as twin sisters—one angelic and the other “without a soul” [!!!-ed]. With mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity, steamy cabarets, romance, chance meetings, madness, and even the transmigration of souls, the wild plot crams a lot into six reels. Critics faulted the improbable story but praised the acting and “cleverness of the production.”

Holy Hitchcockian doubles, Batman! New Zealand Film Archive has more stills on their site. Two favorites:

Restoration Early Work Discovered New Zealand Film Archive Preservation
Hitchcock is not the film’s director, but he is credited as writer, assistant director, art director, and editor. And Hitch was more than willing to take credit for it. From his famous interview with Francois Truffaut:

[Truffaut:] Graham Cutts directed [Woman to Woman in 1923]. You did the adaptation and dialogue, and were assistant director as well?
[Hitchcock:] More than that! My friend, the art director, was unable to work on the picture. I volunteered to serve as art director. So I did all of this and also helped on the production. My future wife, Alma Reville, was the editor of the picture as well as the script girl….Then I performed these various functions for other films. The second was The White Shadow.

In this week’s round-up on the recently reconstructed, certified “Complete” cut of Metropolis [a free screening of which is playing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park tomorrow (Thursday, August 4th) with live accompaniment by Alloy Orchestra], Time Out New York’s David Fear confessed to the wet dream of all film nerds:

Cinephiles fantasize about those mythical Holy Grails of MIA movies: the marathon cut of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, Orson Welles’s ending for The Magnificent Ambersons, the whole of London After Midnight. Hope springs eternal, though notions of finding Fritz Lang’s unedited version of Metropolis—the one that ran a little over two-and-a-half hours, which he premiered in Berlin in 1927—were considered a lost cause. Thanks to a stroke of luck, we now have a nearly complete restoration of the monocled master’s future-shock epic.

I was reminded of the passage by a stray quote from Leslie Lewis, the film’s archivist and “nitrate expert” (how cool does that sound?) published in the Los Angeles Times:

I was inspecting another reel that was just identified as ‘Unidentified American film.’

New Zealand Film Archive inherited The White Shadow from the private catalog of Kiwi projectionist Jack Murtagh; not coincidentally, it was from this same collection that archivists recently rediscovered John Ford’s “lost” silent film Upstream.

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