Film archivists find early Hitchcock film

A movie still from "The White Shadow" released by the National Film Preservation Foundation. The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation announced the discovery of the 1923 film, thought to be the earliest surviving feature by Alfred Hitchcock.
A movie still from "The White Shadow" released by the National Film Preservation Foundation. The New Zealand Film Archive and the National Film Preservation Foundation announced the discovery of the 1923 film, thought to be the earliest surviving feature by Alfred Hitchcock. AP Images

Film archivists say they have gotten a hold of part of a 1923 silent movie called "The White Shadow." It's considered to be the first feature film Alfred Hitchcock ever worked on.

An investigator with the National Film Preservation Foundation discovered a portion of the "lost" film while digging through old nitrate reels at the New Zealand Film Archive.

"The White Shadow" told the story of twin sisters, one good and one bad. Hitchcock didn't direct the film but he wrote it and also served as the film's assistant director and editor.

Annette Melville, director of the National Film Preservation Foundation, says the movie's discovery is a detective story "worthy of Hitchcock."

The film was actually made in Britain, but an American distributor shipped the movie overseas after it was released. A New Zealand projectionist then decided to save the movie and his family donated it to the archive after his death.

After receiving grant money, Leslie Lewis, a "nitrate sleuth" from the NFPF, began digging through reels at the New Zealand Film Archive last year. That trip led to the discovery of the 1927 John Ford film "Upstream." Lewis discovered the Hitchcock film after returning to New Zealand this year, but it wasn't an easy find.

The film was mislabeled as "Twin Sisters" and it also didn't include a title credit.

"Often the film credits of these early films decayed first because they are on the exterior of the reel and they're more exposed to the elements," said Melville.

In addition, nitrate film also can't be put through a projector because it is too fragile so Lewis had to use an old-fashioned method.

"She actually used a magnifying glass and a light table to go through the film frame by frame." said Melville.

She was eventually able to confirm the film was "The White Shadow" after matching dates, as well as cast and distributor information.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans to screen the rediscovered film in September.

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