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The Telegraph (22/Sep/2011) - Lost Alfred Hitchcock classic shown after 80 years




Lost Alfred Hitchcock classic shown after 80 years

Alfred Hitchcock's 1923 silent film The White Shadow was discovered in a garden shed in New Zealand and gets a Hollywood showing.

Alfred Hitchcock's first film The White Shadow, which was lost for more than 80 years, will be shown in Los Angeles today.

The film is being shown at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre and is the earliest known film from British director Hitchcock, who went on to direct more than 60 films, including cinema classics such as Psycho, Dial M For Murder, Torn Curtain, The Birds and North by Northwest.

David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, called the find "one of the most significant developments in memory," adding "These first three reels offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape"

The film world has an eccentric hoarder in New Zealand to thank for finding this treasure from Hitchcock, who died in 1980. The only known print of the 1923 silent film lay in a garden shed in the North Island town of Hastings for decades, alongside hundreds of other films from the silent era.

The collection had been assembled by Jack Murtagh, a cinema projectionist whom New Zealand Film Archive chief Frank Stark described as a "magpie", unable to throw away the prints that passed through his hands.

Murtagh died in 1989 but among the items he bequeathed to the New Zealand film archive was the only surviving copy of a 1927 comedy called Upstream by American director John Ford - who went on to make Stagecoach, The Grapes of Wrath and The Searchers.

They struck gold again this year, uncovering the first three reels of Hitchcock's The White Shadow, the melodramatic story of two sisters, one angelic and the other a smoking, dancing rebel seduced by the Paris nightlife. Hitchcock wrote the film's scripts, designed its sets, and edited the footage.

In the early days of cinema, a limited number of prints were sent from Hollywood for overseas distribution and geographically isolated New Zealand was the final stop on the world circuit. The standing order from the studios was to throw away the prints because it was not worth shipping them back to America.

Fortunately Murtagh disobeyed and the dry and mild climate where he lived helped preserve the nitrate in the prints. The three surviving reels of The White Shadow were warped and cracked when they were found, but in good enough condition for Peter Jackson's Park Road studio in Wellington to make a new print on modern film stock.

Park Road archive preservationist Lynne Reed said: "This was probably last screened in about 1930 and here we are 80-odd years later working on it. So it's a huge privilege."

Stark said there was another cache of European films from other collectors and could also contain lost masterpieces. "There's hundreds of titles, we don't have any idea what's in there yet."

Murtagh's grandson Tony Osborne said: "From boyhood, my grandfather was an avid collector - be it films, stamps, coins or whatever. Some would view him as rather eccentric. He would be quietly amused by all the attention now generated by these important film discoveries."