Earliest Surviving Hitchcock Film Debuts on Web

The White Shadows 1924 film - P 2012

The White Shadows 1924 film - P 2012

The National Film Preservation Foundation screens the recently unearthed and now restored "The White Shadow" (1924).

Forget about that Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Anthony Hopkins that opens next week. Fans can watch another film with the famed director’s fingerprints all over it — the oldest one anyone could possibly see, in fact — starting today.

The White Shadow (1924), the earliest surviving feature credited to Hitchcock, has begun a two-month run on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s website.

But talk about your cliffhangers: Only the opening three reels of the silent six-reel feature (43 minutes worth) have been uncovered.

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The Paris-set melodrama -- on which Hitchcock, then in his mid-20s, is credited as assistant director, art director, editor and writer – was found last year among a cache of unidentified American nitrate prints at the New Zealand Film Archive. It has been restored and surrounded with a newly recorded musical score.

White Shadow is thought to be the first surviving film on which Hitchcock collaborated with future wife Alma Reville (played by Helen Mirren in Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock). The director broke into the industry just three years earlier as a title-card designer.

The British film stars Betty Compson as twin sisters, one angelic and the other “without a soul.” After it was unearthed, it played before audiences at special screenings in New York, Washington and at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles last year.

“Watching the surviving reels of The White Shadow with an audience vividly illustrates the natural gifts of the young Hitchcock as well as the enduring power of silent cinema,” said David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics.

“When the film comes to a halt in the middle of a bravura staircase shot, you’re likely to hear an audible sigh of disappointment from those around you, and from yourself as well.” 

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On-demand movie service Fandor is donating webhosting for the event, and more than 100 film fans across five continents donated funds through an Internet fund-raising drive.

“We’re thrilled to play our part in making this fascinating discovery available everywhere,” said Fandor co-founder Jonathan Marlow.

Sterritt, the author of 1993’s The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, hailed the discovery as “one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work.”

The film, directed by Graham Cutts, was preserved at Park Road Post Production in New Zealand under the supervision of the NZFA and AMPAS'  Academy Film Archive.

E-mail: Mike.Barnes@THR.com

Twitter: @mikebarnes4