By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A lost 1920s Alfred Hitchcock film that provides clues into the legendary director's early working style has been discovered in New Zealand, archivists said on Wednesday.
Recently uncovered film "The White Shadow" features a 24 year-old Hitchcock's work as a writer, assistant director, art director and editor. The film was first released in 1924.
It is considered to be the earliest surviving feature film in which Hitchcock received a credit, according to the U.S.-based National Film Preservation Foundation.
Only the first three of the movie's six reels survive. That adds to the movie's mystery, which some film buffs see as fitting for Hitchcock, because he was famous for creating mysterious stories full of suspense.
"Who knows, maybe someday the rest of it will turn up, (and) we can put the pieces together," said Randy Haberkamp, director of educational programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "Perfect for Hitchcock."
The three reels of "The White Shadow," which was directed by British filmmaker Graham Cutts, were donated in the 1980s to the New Zealand Film Archive by the family of late movie projectionist and collector Jack Murtagh.
"The film was mislabeled, so no one knew what it was really," Haberkamp said.
The film reels, in the form of highly flammable nitrate prints, sat in the New Zealand Film Archive for 23 years, the archive said in a statement.
As a British film distributed by a U.S. company, it was given less priority than other movies that originated in New Zealand, Haberkamp said.
The movie was recently uncovered in a project by the National Film Preservation Foundation to identify early American films at the New Zealand Film Archive.
"The White Shadow" is a melodrama featuring Betty Compson, who was a big star in the 1920s, in dual roles as twin sisters -- one angelic and one devilish.
The movie features mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity and even the transmigration of souls. At the time of its release by Hollywood studio Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises, critics faulted the film for its improbable story.
The British-born Hitchcock began working in movies in the early 1920s as a title card designer for silent films.
Hitchcock, who died in 1980, went on to direct film classics such as "Rear Window" (1954), "Vertigo" (1958) and "Psycho" (1960), and is widely regarded as one of cinema's most significant artists for his psychological thrillers.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will show the surviving three reels of "The White Shadow" on September 22 at its Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis)