Alfred Hitchcock’s Earliest Feature Film, Rediscovered in the New Zealand Film Archive

August 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

Betty Compson in "The White Shadow"/Courtesy

The New Zealand Film Archive’s treasure trove of Silent and early Talkie films has yielded yet another happy surprise: three reels of the earliest surviving feature crediting Alfred Hitchcock. “The White Shadow,” (1924) stars Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one good and the other bad. The 24-year-old Hitchcock served as the film’s production designer as well as its writer, editor and assistant director.

Alfred Hitchcock in his Twenties

Hitchcock, who shot his films so economically they were said to be pre-edited, learned his craft in the English studio system, beginning as an apprentice in 1920, when he was 21. Working his way up the ladder at Islington Studios, he learned every aspect of filmmaking, from menial to technical, and was a skilled filmmaker by the time “The White Shadow” was made. (Contrast his apprenticeship with the path of today’s film students, who are channeled into directing, cinematography and screenwriting programs, with predictably narrow results.)

By the time he directed “The Lodger,” (1927), Hitchcock was, at 28, a filmmaking veteran–and his work showed it. A steady stream of hits, including “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934), “The 39 Steps” (1935), and “The Lady Vanishes” (1938), established him as a star writer/director. From there, the leap to Hollywood was inevitable: he and his wife, Alma Reville (a film editor who was her husband’s greatest collaborator), moved to Los Angeles in 1939. Hitchcock’s first American film, “Rebecca” (1940), was not only an instant classic, but the first in a line of critical and financial successes that stretched into the 1970s.

As for “The White Shadow,” it has been restored in New Zealand with the help of the [American] National Film Preservation Foundation. A new master and exhibition print will be sent to the United States, and a “re-premiere” screening will be announced later this week. For more information, please go to

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