Lost Hitchcock film found in New Zealand
The discovery of the 1923 film "The White Shadow" with Betty Compson offers scholars a chance to see early Alfred Hitchock.
August 3rd, 2011
11:15 AM ET

Lost Hitchcock film found in New Zealand

Researchers combing through a New Zealand film vault have found a lost work of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

The film, titled "The White Shadow," was made in 1923 and released in 1924. It may be the earliest known work of Hitchcock, according to the National Film Preservation Foundation, which will help restore the movie along with the New Zealand Film Archive, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Only three reels of the six-reel film are known to have survived, according to the New Zealand Film Archive.

Hitchcock is credited with writing the film as well as being its assistant director, editor and art director. Graham Cutts was the director.

"This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work," David Sterritt, author of "The Films of Alfred Hitchcock," said in a statement. "These first three reels of 'The White Shadow' more than half the film offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape."

Hitchcock was 24 when "The White Shadow" was made. He had broken in to the film industry three years earlier.

Sterritt said having to work under Cutts made Hitchcock's achievement in "The White Shadow" more remarkable.

"At just 24 years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the film’s scenario, designed the sets, edited the footage, and served as assistant director to Graham Cutts, whose professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging," Sterritt said in the statement.

Film archivists describe "The White Shadow" as "a wild, atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one angelic and the other 'without a soul.' ”

It features "mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity, steamy cabarets, romance, chance meetings, madness, and even the transmigration of souls," according to the film archive's release. "Critics faulted the improbable story but praised the acting and 'cleverness of the production.' ”

The three reels of the film were found in the collection of Jack Murtagh, a New Zealand projectionist. His grandson, Tony Osborne, gave the collection to the New Zealand Film Archive after Murtagh died in 1989.

Leslie Anne Lewis of the National Film Preservation Foundation was researching the films in the New Zealand archive when she came across two prints that looked to her like the work of a master, according to the archive.

The New Zealand archive's inventory listed the film as "Two Sisters" since it was missing its opening credits. Lewis was able to use the film's stars, distributor and storylines to link it to movie reviews from the time and make a positive identification, according to the archive.

The reels are on highly flammable nitrate. Technicians at Park Road Post Production in Wellington, New Zealand, will make black-and-white duplicate negatives as part of the restoration process.

"We feel privileged to be involved in such an important project," lab chief Brian Scadden said in a statement.

Internet Movie Database lists Hitchcock as a director of 67 titles, both movies and television. He was nominated for the best director Oscar five times with no wins, but his 1940 film "Rebecca" won for best picture. He received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement during the 1967 Oscar ceremonies.

Hitchcock directed his last film, "Family Plot," in 1976. Other notable films include "The Birds" (1963), "Psycho" (1960), "Rear Window" (1954) and "Lifeboat" (1944). He died in 1980.

Once "The White Shadow" is restored, plans will be made for public screenings and online viewing, according to the film archive.

Because only the first three reels of the film have been found, the ending will, of course, be a cliffhanger.

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Filed under: Movies • New Zealand • Showbiz
soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Jamie

    I find it interesting that when I came back to this article, I found that CNN corrected the paragraph! They're using us as their editors now. Hmmm . . .

    August 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joseph Bleaux

      Yes, they tend to do that. Pretty pathetic.

      August 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      And we're not paid a cent!!

      August 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nobody N. Particular

      Neither are their editors (are paid that is).

      August 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill Sargent

      Ok, so let me get this straight. You find a mistake on a page (that is common, since we're all human and make typos and mistakes), so you point it out, and they correct it. You then complain because they corrected it? Even editors make mistakes. And I seriously doubt most of the content on CNN.com makes it through an editor's eyes. Most of this is just typed up by columnists and spell checked and slapped up here. This isn't a print newspaper. If you don't like CNN, it's content or their mistakes, then go away. You just sound like a jerk who can't be happy either way.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Richard

    It's not his earliest work, either - he had worked on three films in 1922 (one of which was unfinished), two of them as director as least in part.

    August 3, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. banasy

    Yep, Ruffie was joking...notice he said he downloaded it from 'rufflix'...

    August 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. cinematic soul

    Good god. The article says it is his oldest surviving film and yes imdb will have a listing for the film even if no ones seen it in years. They have pages for unreleased films like the other side of the wind and the day the clown cried as well. So use your heads people. Chances are no one would write an article about a found film if it was readily available on the internet. Good god.

    August 3, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. boom

    Well...I've decided, all the CNN Blogs are infiltrated with comments from the same old tired out people, night after night after night. They obviously have no lives aside from dominating the posts on the CNN blogs. They are SO opinionated and basically think their poop doesnt stink. I think it DOES!

    August 4, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • RUFFNUTT

      @boom... i wouldn't know, im not into smelling poop..
      .
      i have a mission now...."total cnn blog domination" .... any one want to join my army?

      August 4, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Yes1fan

    ..so...this film s NOT about a White Basketball Coach in a predominately black school district, LOL??

    August 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. erich2112x

    If it's a silent film and it aint Keaton or Chaplin, it's sht.

    August 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • John Jones

      I take it you've never seen a silent film other than Chaplin or Keaton, if you've seen any at all? The comedies of Harold Lloyd are also quite enjoyable–see Safety Last! and Girl Shy if you'd like to see a more understated, more modern comedy evolving. If you prefer thrillers, Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse series presents a masterful psychological drama. For science fiction and fantasy, Lang's Metropolis and F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu established tropes and effects still in use today.

      August 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaggieJS

      John Jones, wow! Metropolis – what a fabulous film! I have it on DVD with the new music background, and it is stunning. Erich, watch that one and you'll withdraw your comments about silent films.

      August 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pennypacker

    I think I saw the other 3 reels on Pawn Stars. Chumlee bought them for $15.

    August 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. chadwick39

    The last time "lost" film footage was "found" in New Zealand, it was a hoax. Anyone remember "Forgotten Silver"? Are you sure it wasn't Peter Jackson who found it? ;)

    August 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tcaros

    New Zealand is like Australia, full of friendly double faced liars.
    -
    G'day mate.

    August 4, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. meafind

    @John Jones– Will you marry me? I think I love you!

    P.S. STRICTLY speaking in terms of the impact on the genre, irrespective appropriateness of subject matter or personal feelings regarding plots, a silent film education should begin with Birth of a Nation & Un Chien Andalou. That's just my opinion & you know what they say about thoose...

    August 5, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Patricia

      Oooh! A little 'menagie a trois' going on here....intriguing....

      August 5, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  12. Patricia

    Who is the other sister? Thoughts?

    August 5, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Patricia

    Who is the other sister? We know...just think...

    August 5, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Patricia

    Oooh, 'menage a trois' ....some things are timeless.......ahhhhhhhhhhh............LOL at you, John Jones, you cad!

    August 5, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
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