03 May, 2010

The Lost Hitchcock

The word 'rare' is overused. 'Rare' photographs, 'rare' outtakes'... whenever people talk about archive material, it seems they love it to be akin to a lightly bruised steak.

There can't surely be such a thing as a rare film by the single more famous film-maker ever, but even the silent ones are at least commercially available. Yet, there's one film that, currently, qualified as rare. Waltzes from Vienna was made by Hitchcock under some duress - it really wasn't his kind of picture at all and he later told Francois Truffaut that he made it during his 'lowest ebb'.

When I was commissioned to co-write a book about Hitch, I wanted to make sure that I'd actually seen the films. This might sound obvious, but I know of a couple of authors who've written extensively about material that they'd not bothered to watch, which is why certain errors get passed on from book to book. One film, The Mountain Eagle, is lost - the last remaining print of it disintegrated decades ago (Hitchcock pragmatically didn't seen too upset by this development, describing the film as 'awful').

A trip to the USA gave me the opportunity to pick up almost all of his silent films and a few early talkies, but after five months one film eluded me. Waltzes from Vienna has, to date, never been released commercially and as far as I'm aware has never been shown on television. The only way I could see it was to rent time with a stack of film reels and a moviola.

It's by no means a great Hitchcock film; there are few of the directorial flourishes we associate with him even in this early period. But it's entertaining enough, telling the story of how Strauss the younger finally won the respect and admiration of his father.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, and thanks to various differences in American copyright law, you can actually watch the film at Archive.Org. But if you've managed to collect all of his other works, you'll find a hole where Waltzes from Vienna should be.

Today, I made the first approach to someone who might be in a position to rectify this. Let's see how far this campaign goes.

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