Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The White Shadow (1923)

by Brent Reid
  • Long thought lost: one of the latest rediscoveries from the Master’s very early career
  • He was still working his way up but took on various important roles in its creation
  • Anything this early is extremely rare; discovery generated headlines worldwide
  • But even better apprenticeship works are in the archives and available to view

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.

Betty Compson in The White Shadow (1923)

Prior to his solo directorial début and a few times thereafter, Hitch had a hand in 20-odd shorts and features while in the UK. He worked his way up from designing the titles to taking on additional roles such as art director, co-screenwriter, assistant director and co-director. Unfortunately most of these films are now lost, while a mere few survive as fragments, stored in various archives and very seldom seen. The White Shadow, directed by Graham Cutts, did occupy the former camp but the first three reels of a tinted print, from its original six, turned up recently in the New Zealand Film Archive.

It’s a reasonably entertaining romantic drama concerning a case of deliberate mistaken identity. American import Betty Compson, also star of its successful Cutts-Hitchcock predecessor, Woman to Woman (1923), plays twin sisters involved with the same man. One of them is a good girl, the other not so… With an added title card to cover the missing action, White Shadow‘s three reels were preserved, scored and released on:

Don’t get too excited though; Charles Barr, leading film historian and author, shrewdly noted on its release:

“In the absence of the original credit titles, the restorers get the name of the cameraman wrong, and they implausibly credit Hitchcock not only as art director, assistant director, and scriptwriter, but as film editor as well. Moreover, the associated publicity made wildly misleading claims. The eminent critic and scholar David Sterritt [author of The Films of AH (1993) and Simply H (2017)] described it as providing ‘the missing link’ in Hitchcock’s career, ‘a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.’ Although it was directed not by Hitchcock but by Graham Cutts, Sterritt was happy to write off Cutts as no more than a ‘hack’ – clearly anything of interest in it had to be ascribed to Hitchcock.

Nor did Sterritt or anyone else note that, immediately after the critical and commercial fiasco of The White Shadow, the Cutts-Hitchcock combination made The Passionate Adventure (1924), a film which survives in full (albeit with German intertitles) and is in every way more impressive than its predecessor, and rather more significant as a ‘missing link’. It has been accessible for years, but – like other silent films by Cutts and British contemporaries – only in Britain.”

I agree: The Passionate Adventure is crying out for wider release and renewed appreciation. Those in the UK can see it for free at the wonderful BFI Mediatheques (films), along with another four of the rarest early Hitchcocks, including The White Shadow. Like the 1928 Alma Reville-scripted films, The Constant Nymph and The First Born – both restored but currently languishing in the BFI vaults – they’re among the very best but little-known treasures in the British archives.

For a more balanced and accurate study of Cutts, the Islington Studio and the nascent careers of Hitch and many who worked with him, see London’s Hollywood: The Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years (2014) by Gary Chapman.

L-R Marjorie Daw, Victor McLaglen and Clive Brook in The Passionate Adventure (1924, asst dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

L-R Marjorie Daw, Victor McLaglen and Clive Brook in The Passionate Adventure (1924)

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.

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