Earlier this year, This Island Rod took part in the third annual Film Preservation Blogathon, alongside Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy On Films and Farran Smith Nehme at Self-Styled Siren, for the sake of raising money for the restoration and web hosting of The White Shadow, a long-lost film that was one of a trove of silent treasures rediscovered in New Zealand several years ago. The White Shadow is a work with great historical resonance for world cinema. Directed by Graham Cutts, an important figure of early British cinema, the film features a lauded performance by lead actress Betty Compson, and also sports actor Clive Brook, who would later go on to romance Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932) and star in the Best Picture winner of 1933, Cavalcade. But the chief reason for the film’s special stature, of course, is that it constitutes the earliest extant film credit for Alfred Hitchcock, who served a multiple roles on the production, including as writer and editor. It also marked the start of two fateful associations for Hitchcock, one with the Selznick family, which distributed the film in the US (what is left for us comes from one of their prints), and with his future wife and life-long collaborator Alma Reville. The object of our labours and donations during the Blogathon is finally ready for all to see: for the next two months, starting today, the restored print of The White Shadow is available for viewing at The National Film Preservation Foundation's Preserved Films page. This remarkable resuscitation for a work once considered probably lost forever is thanks to the restoration labours of Park Road Post Production for the New Zealand Film Archive, whilst the esteemed film viewing and critiquing website Fandor has donated web hosting, and the film now sports a specially written and recorded score by Michael Mortilla, sporting violinist Nicole Garcia.
A slice of good old-fashioned melodrama with clear intimations of some of Hitchcock’s favourite themes already apparent, The White Shadow sees Compson playing a dual role, as English twins Georgina and Nancy Brent. Nancy’s wayward nature is excited by her schooling in Europe and a romance with a dashing American gentleman, Robin Field (Brook), and she eventually runs away from home, abandoning her family and her beau in favour of Continental kicks. Georgina pretends to be Nancy, for Field’s sake and to try and sustain her sister’s honour, whilst their father (A. B. Imeson) attempts to track down his missing daughter. But tragedy is unavoidable, as the girls’ mother dies heartbroken after her husband fails to return, and a friend of Field brings news of his amour’s depraved adventures. Sadly, the last three reels of the film are still missing, filled in for the moment by a synopsis of the conclusion. Also featured on the presentation page are program notes about the film by David Sterritt, a short biography of the New Zealand projectionist, Jack Murtagh, thanks to whom the film was saved in the first place, and a slide show about the story of the film’s discovery and work of the New Zealand Film Archive and the Academy Film Archive. For anyone at all interested in silent cinema in general and Hitchcock in particular, what remains of The White Shadow represents an irresistible lode of cinephilic fascination. Marilyn and Farran, esteemed creators and leaders of the Blogathon’s efforts, and my humble self bid you enjoy. We also give our thanks to Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation and her organisation, for all their efforts in bringing this project to fruition, so that you can watch: