Friday, October 07, 2011

The White Shadow

Valkoinen varjo (White Shadows) (Balcon-Saville-Freedman, GB 1924) D: Graham Cutts; ass D, ED, AD: Alfred Hitchcock; SC: Alfred Hitchcock, based on an original screenplay by Michael Morton; DP: Claude L. McDonnell; P: Michael Balcon, Victor Saville; cast: Betty Compson (Nancy Brent / Georgina Brent), Clive Brook (Robin Field), Henry Victor (Louis Chadwick), A.B. Imeson (Mr. Brent), Olaf Hytten (Herbert Barnes), Daisy Campbell (Elizabeth Brent), Bert Darley, Maresco Marisini, Donald Searle, Muriel Gregory; filmed: summer 1923 (Islington Studios, London); released: 2.1924 (GB, dist: W&F), summer 1924 (US, White Shadows, dist: Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises); U.S. © May 1924; orig.: 5047 ft; 35 mm, incomplete (only rl.1-3), 2689 ft + 190 ft (newly added credits and titles summarizing the missing footage), 43' (18 fps), col. (tinted); from: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles (from source material from The New Zealand Film Archive/Nga Kaitiaki O Nga Taonga Whitiahua, Wellington). English intertitles; original main titles missing. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, drums: Frank Bockius, 7 Oct 2011.

Annette Melville (GCM Catalogue): "In celebration of the 2011 Jean Mitry Award, the New Zealand Film Archive, the National Film Preservation Foundation, and the American archival community are delighted to share another astonishing discovery identified as part of the international collaboration to preserve and make available American silent-era films from the NZFA vaults. The film is The White Shadow, a British production from Alfred Hitchcock’s early years, and perhaps the first surviving feature from the young filmmaker. The print is incomplete – only the first 3 reels were found – but what has been recovered reveals a master in the making."

"The White Shadow is a wild, atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters – one angelic and the other “without a soul.” With mysterious disappearances, mistaken identity, steamy cabarets, romance, chance meetings, madness, and even the transmigration of souls, the feature crammed a lot into 6 reels. Critics faulted the improbable story but praised the acting and “cleverness of the production.”"

"Hitchcock broke into the British film industry in 1920 as a title-card designer. Within three years, he was writing scripts, designing sets, and taking every production role thrown his way. For The White Shadow, which was long assumed to be lost, Hitchcock is credited as assistant director, art director, editor, and writer. David Sterritt, author of The Films of Alfred Hitchcock (Cambridge University Press, 1993), has commented: “This [discovery] is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work. At just twenty-four years old, Alfred Hitchcock wrote the film’s scenario, designed the sets, edited the footage, and served as assistant director to Graham Cutts, whose professional jealousy toward the gifted upstart made the job all the more challenging … These first three reels of The White Shadow – more than half the film – offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.”"

"Why The White Shadow turned up among the American films at the New Zealand Film Archive deserves some explanation. A British feature produced in 1923, the film survives as an American exhibition print distributed by Hollywood’s Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises the following year. The distributor’s logo appears on some of the narrative intertitles, contributing to the assumption that the production was American. Missing its opening credits, the film was identified through the detective work of NFPF nitrate expert Leslie Anne Lewis and NZFA conservators Kurt Otzen and Louise McCrone."

"The film was preserved at New Zealand’s Park Road Post Production and a new preservation master and exhibition print was sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the repository of Hitchcock’s personal papers and home movies. Prints were also made for the New Zealand Film Archive and the British Film Institute. The White Shadow survives today thanks to New Zealand projectionist Jack Murtagh, a passionate collector of early cinema, and the New Zealand Film Archive. Film lovers everywhere salute their stewardship." – ANNETTE MELVILLE

AA: Graham Cutts was the leading British film director when The White Shadow was made, and this newly rediscovered footage is also important as a sample of some of the earliest work of other great talents such as Michael Balcon, Victor Saville, and Alfred Hitchcock. Betty Compson is the life of the party. The directorial touch is rather ordinary. The concept of the story is mystical: "the soul casts a white shadow". The evil sister has no soul at all to begin with, but after the death of the good sister "her white shadow passes to her who at last has a soul". Maybe we can see here some premonition to the "Celle qui n'était plus" obsessions of Alfred Hitchcock. From a battered source a very watchable print has been restored. The original toning is pleasant to watch. The missing reels are covered by explanatory titles. There was a big laugh in the audience because of the absolutely mad story ideas summarized in them.

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