Hey there, High-Def Digest readers. Do you remember that Hitchcock Blogathon we participated in back in May? The goal of joining that effort was to help the National Film Preservation Foundation raise enough money to fund a new musical score and host online distribution for ‘The White Shadow’, an early silent film that helped to launch the Master of Suspense’s career. Well, the mission was successful, and the short film is available for streaming now for the next two months. Watch it while you can.
The 1924 British film was directed by Graham Cutts, with a 25-year-old lad by the name of Alfred Hitchcock credited as Assistant Director, Art Director, Editor and Writer. For many years, the movie was thought lost to history, until 2011, when three reels (of its original six) were discovered at the New Zealand Film Archive in canisters mislabeled with the wrong title. What survives are just over 43 minutes of footage, played to a new musical score by composer Michael D. Mortilla.
The film is a fairly standard melodrama about identical twin sisters, the rebellious Nancy and the demure Georgina (both played by Betty Compson). Nancy, described in the intertitles as “The Girl with No Soul,” seduces an American man named Robin (Clive Brook), and later runs away from home for a life of debauchery in Paris. The shame of this kills the girls’ mother and drives their father insane. (Mental health was a fragile thing in 1920s England, it would seem.) To protect her family’s reputation, good girl Georgina pretends to be Nancy and dates Robin in her absence, soon falling in love with the man herself. The convoluted plot eventually brings everyone together at a bohemian Paris café called The Cat Who Laughs, where secrets will be revealed and lives will be forever altered – or they would, if the last half the movie still survived. As it is, some new intertitles have to fill us in on how the story was supposed to end.
For the modern viewer, ‘The White Shadow’ serves as little more than a curiosity. The movie was a stepping stone for a young talent who would soon bloom into one of the most important filmmakers in the medium’s history. On its own terms, it’s a rather silly story and not all that compelling. Regardless, it’s crisply edited, and the theme of mistaken identity is obviously one that would obsess Hitchcock for most of his career. By watching this, you can see the formative stages of the director’s later work.
The film elements suffer from extensive scratches, warpage, burns and other damage. Considering that this print is literally the only copy of the movie in existence, it’s watchable enough. Mortilla’s jaunty score helps enormously.
The NFPF will host the online streaming through the middle of January. After that, I’m not sure what will become of the film. The first 40 minutes of a half-lost silent movie don’t seem like much of a candidate for a DVD or Blu-ray release, except perhaps as a bonus feature on some more extensive collection of Hitchcock content – and it feels like the window for that may have been missed.
[Via Self-Styled Siren]