Lost Hitchcock film to be given Hollywood premiere in New Zealand archive

  • @guyadams

Thirty years after his death, a film by Sir Alfred Hitchcock will once more enjoy a Hollywood premiere after a copy of what is believed to be the earliest surviving film from his back catalogue was found in New Zealand.

Three reels from a silent movie called The White Shadow, described by researchers as a "wild, atmospheric melodrama" and previously thought to be lost, have turned up at Auckland's national film archive among a collection of nitrate prints donated in the 1980s by the family of a collector. The location of the remaining reels is unknown.

Fans will be able to see the half-hour of footage from next month, after The White Shadow has been given a "re-premiere" by the Academy of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Made in north London in 1923, the movie starred Betty Compson in dual roles as twin sisters. One of them was angelic; the other, quite the reverse.

Hitchcock, the son of an East End greengrocer, was an unknown but ambitious 24-year-old when the low-budget melodrama was made. He worked as the writer, assistant director, editor, and production designer, and is believed to have fallen badly out with the director, Graham Cutts, during filming.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, described Cutts as a "hack" whodidn't take too kindly to Hitchcock's attempts to impose himself on the project. His "professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging," he noted.

Mr Sterritt described the film as a "missing link" that would shed light on Hitchcock's path to stardom. Most of his work predating the 1926 film The Lodger, his first major hit, has been lost.

"He was a creative young man who had already done some writing. We know the kind of creative personality he had when he was young and we know a few years later he started directing movies himself," he said. "What we don't know is how these things were coalescing in his imagination."

Hitchcock went on to become the father of the modern studio thriller. His movies included The 39 Steps, The Birds, Psycho, Dial M For Murder, and Vertigo. Although he is now revered by the Academy, which maintains an archive of his work, Hitchcock's alleged smugness often alienated his contemporaries. He was nominated for the Best Director Oscar five times, but never won.

Hitchcock rarely discussed his collaboration with Cutts. But he did touch on the subject in an interview with Francois Truffaut in the 1960s. Asked whether he was employed as screenwriter and assistant director on their first film together, 1923's Woman to Woman, he replied: "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."