The earliest surviving film worked on by Alfred Hitchcock is among the latest finds by researchers combing the New Zealand Film Archive.

The British feature “The White Shadow” (1924) was previously considered lost, but three reels of the six-reel pic have turned up in the Kiwi archive, along with 60 other pics, including Hollywood titles previously thought to be lost to the ravages of nitrate degradation. The New Zealand Film Archive and the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation announced the discoveries on Wednesday.

“This is one of the most significant developments in memory for scholars, critics, and admirers of Hitchcock’s extraordinary body of work,” said David Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and author of “The Films of Alfred Hitchcock.” “These first three reels of ‘The White Shadow’ offer a priceless opportunity to study his visual and narrative ideas when they were first taking shape.”Pic is described as an atmospheric melodrama starring Betty Compson in a dual role as twin sisters, one angelic and the other “without a soul.” Hitchcock is credited as assistant director to Graham Cutts, as well as serving as art director, editor and writer on the film, which was distribbed in the U.S. by Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises.

Film historians have been digging through the archive ever since it became known, more than a year ago, that it housed a cache of early films saved by Kiwi projectionist and film enthusiast Jack Murtagh, who died in 1989. Last year, the researchers discovered a trove of 75 titles, including a John Ford silent, “Upstream” (1927), previously considered lost (Daily Variety, June 7, 2010).

Among the other films uncovered in the latest round of research are the two-color Technicolor short “The Love Charm” (1928), early works from pioneering femme helmers Muriel Ostriche and Alice Guy, a 1920 dance demonstration by ballerina-choreographer Albertina Rasch and a fragment from the Keystone Kops’ lost slapstick comedy “In the Clutches of the Gang” (1914).The pics from the Kiwi archive will be preserved over the next three years through a partnership with five major U.S. film archives that are collaborating with the National Film Preservation Foundation on the project: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A restored print of “The White Shadow” reels will also be presented to the British Film Institute for its Hitchcock rescue project.