Film discovery offers insight into Islington’s Hollywood history

The surprise discovery of a lost Alfred Hitchcock film has brought attention to Islington, where the studio in which it was filmed once stood.

Three reels of the 1924 silent picture The White Shadow, which was shot at Islington Studios in Poole Street, were recently stumbled upon at the New Zealand Film Archive and are soon to be used in a second Hollywood premiere of the work, 87 years on.

Hitchcock, then aged 24, was assistant director, art director, editor and writer on the project and it is believed to be his earliest feature length film.

Islington Studios were demolished in 2002 having stood derelict for many years after production ceased in 1951. The landmark was perhaps best known for the Gainsborough Melodramas, produced by the Gainsborough Pictures company who owned the studios and lend their name to the luxury apartments that occupy the site today.

The three reels, amounting to around 30 minutes of film, were discovered during examination of canisters incorrectly labelled Twin Sisters and Unidentified American Film. A researcher recognised the work as resembling Hitchcock’s and, after examining contemporary reviews of the film for clues, correctly identified the film as The White Shadow.

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A combination of poor critical reception and bad box office performances led to a short run in cinemas after which many copies were destroyed or lost. By chance the reels made it to New Zealand where they were looked after by a film projectionist and collector whose family donated his collection to the New Zealand Film Achive after his death in 1989.

While Hitchcock was heavily involved with the film it was directed by the lesser known Graham Cutts, one of the period’s most celebrated directors. It was widely acknowledged as a spectacular failure but the same team produced Woman to Woman, which was Islington Studios’ box office smash hit the previous year, and – ironically – is also in the British Film Institute’s 75 Most Wanted films classified as missing, believed lost.

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