New Zealand has once again uncovered an early cinematic treasure, with film preservationists announcing the discovery of an early Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Staffers at the National Film Preservation Foundation delved into a donation to the New Zealand Film Archive and discovered three reels of the 1923 film The White Shadow, for which Hitchcock is credited as writer, assistant director, editor and art director.

According to foundation director Annette Melville, the three reels represent the first-half of the six-reel movie. The film was among the items donated by the family of Jack Murtagh, a New Zealand projectionist and collector.


Alfred Hitchcock appears with his wife Alma Reville in 1926, a year after he made his directorial debut with The Pleasure Garden. ((E. Bacon/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images))

A silent melodrama, The White Shadow was directed by Graham Cutts and starred Betty Compson as twin sisters — one good, one evil. There are no other copies of the film known to exist.

"At the time, people said the plot was improbable. I'm putting a polite spin on it. Many said it was ridiculous," Melville said.

"It's a totally crazy, zany plot with soul migration back and forth and all these improbable meetings."

The White Shadow was released two years ahead of Hitchcock's directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden. The British-American film icon went on to release a raft of films that became Hollywood classics, like The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and To Catch a Thief.

The New Zealand print of The White Shadow has been restored and will be screened on Sept. 22 in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the headquarters of the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This latest find comes after a cache of 75 rare U.S. silent films was discovered in a vault at the New Zealand Film Archive in late 2009, during a visit by an American film preservationist.

In 2010, the British Film Institute spearheaded a campaign calling for donations to help restore Hitchcock's early silent films.

With files from The Associated Press