Any kind of discovery of a lost film is something of a victory for movie lovers, but particularly so when one of the 17 or so silent-era films that the master Alfred Hitchcock was involved in -- something of a Holy Grail for film restorers -- are dug up, and good news has arrived today courtesy of the LA Times. The paper reports that The National Film Preservation Foundation has announced that three reels, totaling about 30 minutes, of "The White Shadow," a 1923 film on which Hitchcock was the writer, assistant director, editor and production designer, have been discovered, and will be premiered at the Academy on September 22nd.
The film, which stars Betty Compson and Clive Brook, is considered to be the first on which Hitchcock had a major credit, and was directed by Graham Cutts, who feuded with Hitchcock and is described by expert David Sterritt as "a hack." The film has long been considered lost, but as it turns out, had been languishing in the New Zealand Film Archive for close to 20 years where the Kiwi foundation generally only had the funding to look after home-grown pictures. Last year, however, the U.S. archive received a grant to check out the American films in the archive, which turned out to include a 1927 John Ford silent "Upstream." Encouraged by that success, they returned and found the Hitchcock, labelled as "Twin Sisters" and "Unidentified American Film."
Nitrate film expert Leslie Lewis was the one who discovered it and says, "We pulled a bunch of reels from the nitrate vaults and I just started going through them. 'White Shadow' was initially labeled 'Twin Sisters.' I went home and started poking around, did a lot of research and narrowed down the possibilities. I realized that this was more like a film that Hitchcock worked on. I went to their archives the next day and used their research to pull out some contemporary reviews and summaries and confirmed it was 'White Shadow.' But I was inspecting another reel that was just identified as 'Unidentified American film.' I put it on the table and I recognized the actors and the sets. I took dozens of photographs of each reel and then compared them [to the other two reels] and they belonged together."
So good news all around. As we said, the film will be screened at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater on September 22nd before being added to their Hitchcock collection. In the meantime, there are still many Hitchcock pictures still to be discovered, most notably the 1928 "The Mountain Eagle," which the director himself described as "awful." So, you know, if you have any nitrate prints knocking around your attic, do double check...