The name Alfred Hitchcock is synonymous with mystery and suspense filmmaking, and even those not familiar with his work still know the name. The man is a legend, and will remain so for all eternity.
So you’ll understand the elation being felt at the discovery of Hitchcock’s earliest of works, a film titled The White Shadow.
Only three film reels of a total of six have been found so far, but the movie was first released back in 1924 when Hitchcock was only 24 years of age. He didn’t direct the movie as he would go on to do with so many classics such as North by Northwest, Pyscho, Rear Window, and Vertigoâ€”that credit went to Graham Cuttsâ€”but he did act as writer, assistant director, editor, and art director on it.
The silent film pulled off something done much more often in recent times, in that it had an actor playing two roles. Actress Betty Compson (seen in the image aboveâ€”head to the National Film Preservation Foundation site for more images) plays twin sisters in the film, one “angelic” while the other “without a soul.”
Of the discovery, David Sterritt, author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, said “The White Shadow is a missing link, one of those few productions where we are able to bridge that gap of Hitchcock, the young guy with all these ideas, and Hitchcock the filmmaker. Even though he didn’t direct it, he was all over it.”
Sterritt went on to say “This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcockâ€™s extraordinary body of work. At just twenty-four years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the filmâ€™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. These first three reels of The White Shadowâ€”more than half the filmâ€”offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.
One of the narratives written by Hitchcock for the silent picture goes as such: “It may be said that there are no such things as white shadows, but just as the sun casts a dark shadow, so does the soul cast its shadow of white, reflecting a purity that influences the lives of those upon whom the white shadows fall.”
National Film Preservation Foundation director Annette Melville added “At the time, people said the plot was improbable. I’m putting a polite spin on it. Many said it was ridiculous. It’s a totally crazy, zany plot with soul migration back and forth and all these improbable meetings.”
Though still incomplete a restored version of The White Shadow will screen at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater on September 22.