It’s been a big year for Hitchcock devotees. First, there was the latest unveiling of the 12-hour audio file from Hitchcock’s famous interview with French critic and director Francois Truffaut. Now, the National Film Preservation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Archive have announced their discovery of the opening half-hour of The White Shadow, Hitchcock’s first credited film.
In 1923, a 24-year old Hitchcock served as the writer, director, editor and production designer for a melodrama starring Clive Brook and Betty Compson, who played two twin sisters, one good, one bad. Hitchcock scholar David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, calls the find a “missing link” between the director’s early years as a writer and his eventual rise as a major filmmaker.
The White Shadow clip had been sitting in a collection of unknown American nitrate prints in the New Zealand archive since 1989. The archive focuses the bulk of its restoration work on the country’s own films, so the pile of American films had been cared for, but not examined closely.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which had financed a trip for a National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) archivist to travel to New Zealand last year to check out the American collection, provided a new grant this year to make another trip possible. Leslie Lewis, the NFPF’s nitrate expert, found the White Shadow clip, which had been given the simple label of “Twin Sisters.”
Lewis was able to match the two reels of “Twin Sisters” with another reel in the New Zealand archive labeled “Unidentified American film.” Comparing the visuals and the actors in all three reels, she realized they came from the same picture. After researching the footage further in the US, she was able to confirm that it was a section from The White Shadow based on contemporary reviews and summaries of the film.
The White Shadow will have its second premiere, if you will, this September, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The film will also be added to the Academy’s collection of Hitchcock’s works.