An Alfred Hitchcock silent film thought lost for more than half a century has been discovered and restored and I got to see it tonight at the Motion Picture Association of America with a musical score composed for the film performed live. It was a thrill. The movie is a wild melodrama about identical twins, one good, one evil, both played by silent star Betty Compson. The title, “The White Shadow,” refers to the soul of the good sister. As Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today pointed out, this was an early example of themes of duality Hitchcock would explore again in films like “Vertigo” and “Strangers on a Train.” Hitchcock wrote the screenplay, designed and edited the film, and was its assistant director. As New Zealand’s Ambassador Mike Moore explained to a rapt audience, a collection of some 75 British and American films was discovered in New Zealand because it cost so much to ship them back they often just kept them. The “White Shadow” print was incomplete, but the footage they found has been restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation. MPAA Chairman (and former Senator) Chris Dodd provided the introduction and Hitchcock specialist David Sterritt provided insightful and witty commentary and context — and told us how the movie ended.
The movie has a lot of great touches. My favorite was the sordid cafe called “The Laughing Cat,” where the patrons greet newcomers by shouting “Get out!”