By Jordan Riefe
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Suspense master Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980 but that hasn't stopped him from adding a new title to his filmography. "The White Shadow," produced in 1924, is the earliest known film bearing his creative touch.
The long lost film was unveiled to audiences on Thursday night at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills with a screening attended by the stars of two Hitchcock classics, Eva Marie Saint ("North by Northwest") and Norman Lloyd ("Saboteur").
Also on hand were experts from the New Zealand Film Archive where the print was uncovered by Leslie Anne Lewis of the National Film Preservation Foundation.
Lewis stumbled upon the first three reels of the film while poring through original nitrate prints unseen for decades. The movie had no credits, requiring Lewis to match documentation from various sources to the movie.
"She's worked through inter-titles, identifying actors or locations," said Frank Stark, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Film Archive. "So it came into focus exactly what this film might be and we had a consultation internationally to confirm things. Ultimately we got to that moment where it's inescapable -- we do have a film that Hitchcock worked on."
A lush melodrama, "The White Shadow" stars Betty Compson as twin sisters, Georgia (pure of heart), and Nancy, (black as Hades). Clive Brook plays an American art student who meets Nancy in transit to Europe and ultimately falls in love. But Nancy disappears, leaving her father grief stricken and wandering the land looking for her.
At a climactic moment, father and daughter unknowingly cross paths, and just as the second daughter is about to enter, the screen goes black, leaving audiences scratching their heads wondering where the devil are those final three reels?
"HITCHCOCK'S STUDENT FILM"
"Think of this as Hitchcock's student film," said the Academy's Randy Haberkamp. Although "The White Shadow" has none of the visual panache associated with Hitchcock's best-known work, such as "North by Northwest" or "Psycho," Haberkamp noted its thematic elements such as duel morality, which the "White Shadow" shares with the mystery master's more famous titles.
Hitchcock is not listed as director -- that honor goes to Graham Cutts, a filmmaker of little distinction. But Hitchcock is listed as assistant director, co-writer and art director.
"He was kind of an upstart," laughs Lewis. "Every time they needed something, he'd, say, 'I'll do it.' It wouldn't surprise me if the director would start to feel a little hemmed in by this one person."
"The White Shadow" was distributed in the United States by Myron Selznick, whose brother, the legendary David Selznick, produced Hitchcock's "Rebecca" in 1940, an Oscar winner for best film. In between were classics like "The Lady Vanishes" and "The 39 Steps," followed by iconic titles "Psycho" and "North by Northwest," starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.
"Hitch didn't really work with the actor as far as the character, but he had an incredible appreciation of the exterior of the character," recalled Saint. "So he was involved with hair, with makeup, with jewels, the clothes -- somehow the exterior helped me to create the interior of the character."
Sitting next to her was Norman Lloyd who played Fry, the villain who falls from the Statue of Liberty in "Saboteur."
"Every director who went from silents to talkies wrote with the camera," he said. "They didn't need dialogue, they got you by letting you see it. Hitch brought that from silent films."
Stark noted that back in that era, New Zealand was one of the final stops on the film distribution list, which is why such high-value prints keep turning up there.
As for the remaining reels of the movie, few hold out hope of finding them in New Zealand. But Stark remains optimistic, "That doesn't mean there isn't someone somewhere in the world saying, 'I've got the last three reels of 'The White Shadow'!"
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)