Alfred Hitchcock came into the film business in 1919, barely out of his teens. His training as a draughtsman helped secure work designing intertitles for the American company Famous Players-Lasky. An apprenticeship at Gainsborough Pictures assisting director Graham Cutts followed, during which young Alfred learned all aspects of his craft. This emerging talent was nurtured by producer Michael Balcon, who rewarded him with assignments at Germany’s fabled Ufa Studios. By the time Hitchcock made his first film as credited director, The Pleasure Garden (1926), he had variously acted as assistant director, title designer, art director and writer on nearly 20 features.
This collection brings together the five surviving films from this period, including a portion of The White Shadow (1924) recently unearthed in New Zealand. 2012 sees the launch of the major BFI project The Genius of Hitchcock – including premieres of the BFI National Archive’s silent feature restorations and a complete retrospective at BFI Southbank (August to October) – and this ‘prehistory’ is integral to our understanding of the master storyteller’s career.
Five to try
Always Tell Your Wife (1923)
An uncredited Hitchcock took over direction of this marital comedy half-way through production, along with leading man Seymour Hicks. Only one reel is known to have survived.
The Passionate Adventure (1924)
Hitchcock served as writer, art director and assistant director for Gainsborough on this romantic drama starring Clive Brook.
The Prude’s Fall (1924)
A French captain persuades a rich widow to become his mistress, but it’s a scheme to test her love. Hitchcock again took on multiple roles behind the camera.
The White Shadow (1924)
In Paris, a young woman is possessed by the soul of her dead twin. Assisting director Graham Cutts, Hitchcock also adapted the screenplay and art directed this thriller, thought lost until 2011.
The Blackguard (1925)
Sent to Germany by Michael Balcon, Hitchcock made a significant contribution to this feature set during the Russian Revolution and co-produced by the Ufa company.