- His Master’s Apprenticeship: detailing the preservation status of Hitchcock’s earliest works
- He entered the fledgling film industry in the early 1920s as a lowly freelance title card designer
- Quickly worked his way up through more responsible roles, culminating as assistant director
- Hitchcock’s next step was to begin creating his own inimitable catalogue of classic films
- He rose to become Britain’s top director within a few years and Hollywood soon came calling
Note: this is one of 100-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.
During his early years in the British film industry throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Hitch worked on 20-odd shorts and features in various capacities and earned a sole directing credit for 27 more. Only around half of the films on which he had lesser input survive, but in varying levels of condition and completeness. The earliest, dating from 1921–1925, just prior to his first full directorial effort, The Pleasure Garden, were where he served his apprenticeship and forged many invaluable personal and professional relationships, some of which would endure throughout his entire career.
These are the most significant British films Hitch worked on outside of his main oeuvre. Except where noted otherwise, most are lost and of the remainder only three and a half (in bold) are available on home video. Thankfully though, five of those that are wholly or partially extant can be viewed for free via the wonderful BFI Mediatheques (films). They also have a handful of other Hitch essentials, including the documentary Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock (2009) in which the comedian extols the virtues of Hitch’s pre-Hollywood career.
AD: assistant director, ArtD: art director, CD: co-director, CW: co-writer, D: director, P: producer, PM: production manager, SA: studio assistant, TD: title designer
- The Call of Youth (1921) – TD
- The Great Day (1920) – TD
- The Princess of New York (1921) – TD
- Appearances (1921) – TD
- Dangerous Lies (1921) – TD
- The Mystery Road (1921) – TD
- Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (1921) – TD
- Three Live Ghosts (1922) – TD, ; original lost but Soviet re-edit extant: 6 reels/5,784ft
- Love’s Boomerang (1922) – TD
- The Man from Home (1922) – TD, ArtD; original lost but extant w/Dutch titles: 7 reels/6,895ft
- The Spanish Jade (1922) – TD, ArtD
- Number 13 (1922) – D, P; unfinished
- Tell Your Children (1922) – TD, ArtD
- Flames of Passion (1922) – SA; extant w/Dutch titles
- Paddy the Next Best Thing (1923) – SA
- Always Tell Your Wife (1923, short) – uncredited CD, PM; one of two reels extant; UK-viewable
- Woman to Woman (1923) – CW, ArtD, AD; original lost but 1929 sound remake w/same star extant
- The White Shadow (1923) – CW, ArtD, AD; three of six reels extant
- The Passionate Adventure (1924) – CW, ArtD; partially extant w/German titles: 5,877ft of 7,923ft; UK-viewable
- The Blackguard (1925) – CW, ArtD, AD; partially extant; lost-films.eu: 6,525ft of 9,200ft; UK-viewable
- The Prude’s Fall (1925) – CW, ArtD, AD; partially extant: 1,998ft of 6,675ft; UK-viewable
- An Elastic Affair (1930, short) – D
- Elstree Calling (1930) – CD; extant
- Lord Camber’s Ladies (1932) – P; extant
- Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache (1944, shorts) – D; extant
London’s Hollywood: The Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years (2014) by Gary Chapman is the definitive history of the Islington (later Gainsborough) studio where Hitch began his career, and a simultaneous account of his meteoric ascent. Author article.
Woman to Woman (1923)
Based on Michael Morton’s eponymous and seemingly unpublished 1921 play, the first of three filmed versions was directed by Graham Cutts, with Hitch assisting in several roles both credited and uncredited, writing and directing among them. Though I wouldn’t expect it to have been the most insightfully written Hitch adaptation:
“I had to write the screenplay for the movie Woman to Woman: the story of a man who has a mistress in Paris, who bangs his head, loses his memory, and starts going with another woman, who gives him a child [sic: the child is from the mistress]. Well, I was 23 years old, I’d never been with a woman, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what a woman did to have a child. I had even less idea what a man did when he was with his mistress in Paris or when he was with another woman who was giving him a child.” – interview (italiano) with Oriana Fallaci in Gli antipatici/The Egotists: 16 Surprising Interviews (1963/1968) | Internet Archive
It’s a tragic tale of doomed romance set against the backdrop of the First World War. Despite Hitch’s lack of worldly insight, it gained enthusiastic reviews and was a commercial success, vindicating the cost of importing US star Betty Compson on a two-picture deal. However, its production overran, meaning the follow-up, The White Shadow, also with Hitch, Cutts and Compson, suffered from being too rushed and it flopped on release, wiping out all the profits earned by its predecessor. There’s a detailed synopsis and analysis of Woman in Representative Photoplays Analyzed (1924) by Scott O’Dell, describing the reshot ending of the American version in which – spoiler alert – Compson’s character doesn’t die and is reunited with her love.
Woman’s 1923 original is one of only two films of the seven Hitch apprenticed on under Cutts at Islington for which no material has been found. In its complete absence, we’ll have to content ourselves with the 1929 talkie remake, also featuring Betty Compson and directed by Woman and Shadow’s producer Victor Saville. A second remake followed in 1947, this time updated to WWII, but it’s currently unavailable. However, various copies going right back to the original negative are held by the BFI Archive, so you never know. Until someone ponies up for a full restoration, circulating copies of the 1929 version are in worn but watchable condition via these unofficial releases:
- US: Grapevine DVD (2011) – region 0
- UK: Prime Video
- Germany: Prime Video
Lord Camber’s Ladies (1932)
This was Hitch’s final film for British International Pictures and the only one for which he was solely credited as producer. It’s based on Horace Annesley Vachell’s 1915 play, The Case of Lady Camber, first filmed eponymously in 1920 but now lost. A second remake, The Story of Shirley Yorke, followed in 1948 and is available on DVD. Notable members of the 1932 version’s cast include Nigel Bruce in the title role but best known for playing Basil Rathbone’s amanuensis in the Fox/Universal Sherlock Holmes series. Another is Clare Greet, star of Number 13, Hitch’s first film, albeit uncompleted and also now lost. She also appeared in Three Live Ghosts, for which Hitch drew the the intertitles, and acted in seven other Hitchcocks, more than any other featured player. Lastly, Gerald du Maurier, father of Daphne, had top billing. His daughter of course wrote the source novels for Jamaica Inn and Rebecca.
There’s more info and a very ropy bootleg copy over at the invaluable Hitchcock Zone; this is an expectedly creaky programmer that’s difficult to watch in its present condition but worth it for fans of early British talkies. As with Woman to Woman’s remake, the BFI have a cache of materials including the original negative, so there’s similarly strong potential for a great preservation or even restoration. But it’s owned by Studiocanal, so don’t hold your breath, given their complete lack of action over the far better known and more essential Juno and the Paycock.
- UK: Renown DVD The Story of Shirley Yorke (2012)
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
- Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.