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Graham Cutts

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Graham Cutts (1884–1956) was a writer, director and producer who worked in fledgling British film industry, initially for Graham-Wilcox Productions, then for Balcon, Freedman & Saville (1923) and Gainsborough (1924-29), before directing less frequently for various British film companies during the 1930s.

During the mid-to-late 1920s, he was regularly referred to as "England's greatest director" by the British press.


John Henry Graham Cutts was born in 1884 in Brighton, Sussex.[1]

By 1901, aged 17, he was a boarding student at St. John's College, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex.[2]

In 1909, Cutts married Lizzie Hart in Hartlepool, Durham. Their first child died in infancy. He later lived with (and possibly married) actress Robin Coles.[3]

By 1911, Cutts was a picture theatre manager in Sevenoaks, Kent, and his wife Lizzie was a silent film pianist.[4] By the following year, he was managing the Empire Theatre in Exeter.[5] According to Michael Balcon, Cutts also worked as a theatre manager for Sol Levy (~1877–1929), who began establishing the Scala chain of cinemas in the Midlands from 1913 onwards.[6]

In March 1914, the Birmingham Gazette ran a feature-length article about the new Scala Theatre, managed by Cutts.

In the early 1920s he'd begun directing films, including the well-received Flames of Passion (1922) which was produced in partnership with Herbert Wilcox.

Cutts optioned the film rights to Michael Morton's play Woman to Woman and approached Balcon, Freedman & Saville. After raising £30,000 in financing, Victor Saville travelled to America and hired actress Betty Compson for two films on a salary of £1,000 a week.[7]

Lacking their own studio facilities, they rented the stages at Islington Studios and made use of the existing staff, including Alfred Hitchcock who acted as assistant director to Cutts.[8] The resulting film was released in 1923 to great commercial success. A second film with Compson, The White Shadow, moved into production immediately afterwards — again with Hitchcock working as assistant director to Cutts — but it failed at the box office.[9]

Following the collapse of Balcon, Freedman & Saville in 1924, Michael Balcon formed Gainsborough Pictures. Although Cutts continued to utilise Hitchcock talents, a certain amount of professional jealousy arose and, when Balcon then arranged for Hitchcock to begin directing in 1925, Cutts allegedly convinced film distributor C.M. Woolf that the resulting films — The Pleasure Garden, The Mountain Eagle and The Lodger — were too uncommercial and they were temporarily shelved.[10] Woolf apparently was of the same opinion and regarded Hitchcock's films as too European.

Graham Cutts' daughter Patricia was born in 1925.[11] She became an actress, memorably playing the uncredited role of the "Hospital Patient" in North by Northwest (1959) who commands Cary Grant twice to "Stop!". She also appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Cutts had commercial success with The Rat trilogy of films (1925–1929) before making several sound films for Basil Dean. However, he failed to reach the same level of success that he had attained during in the 1920s and his career went into decline by the end of the 1930s.

Cutts died in September 1958, aged 74.


At his peak in the 1920s, Cutts was hailed as "one of the finest directors in the world"[12] who created films of "exceptional artistic and dramatic interest"[13] and had an unprecedented run of highly profitable films that helped to revitalise the struggling British film industry.

Several actors whose names are linked to early Hitchcock films in fact acted first for Cutts, including Ivor Novello in The Rat (1925), Lilian Hall-Davis in The Wonderful Story (1922) and The Passionate Adventure (1924), and Anny Ondra in God's Clay (1928) and Glorious Youth (1928).

In London's Hollywood: The Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years, author Gary Chapman speculates that many of the stories recounted in the Hitchcock biographies about Cutts' behaviour may have been exaggerated and this had led to his work being undervalued, particularly among some of the American Hitchcock scholars.[14]

Although his career was eclipsed by the success of Hitchcock, film scholar Christine Gledhill noted that Cutts' films:

[...] were noted for their spectacular production values, experimental virtuosity of camerawork and lighting and the intense performances and attractive characterisations of his actors, several of whom rose to stardom under his direction. Cutts refused to subject his showman's instincts to the discipline of story, and his melodramatic and romantic scenarios increasingly disappointed his admirers by their improbability, 'jumpy continuity' and dubious moral tone. But Cutts aimed to use spectacle and topical controversy as a conduit to his audience's underlying instincts and passions. He used unexpected camera angles and movement, often combined with glass filters and framing devices, to traverse between depth and surface and recognised the voyeuristic potential of the camera to explore subjectivity and sexuality, a domain which Hitchcock would later claim as his own.[15]


With Hitchcock...

See Also...

Research Documents

1901 Census

1911 Census

Research Notes

  • 1936–1939 Electoral Registers — living at Flat 2, 56 Paddington Street, Westminter, London, with Gladys Rose Cutts.
  • No passenger list entries found.
  • No death probate record found.


Notes & References

  1. Many sources claim 1885, but his birth registration happened in Q1 1884 Brighton, Sussex. Potentially he may have even been born in late 1883.
  2. Now named Hurstpierpoint College. Source: 1901 Census.
  3. If they did indeed marry, the details are uncertain but presumably it happened prior to the birth of his daughter Patricia who was born to Robin. Robin appears to have separated from Graham Cutts at some point and remarried to a man named Thornton, as her name when she died was reported by the press as "Mrs. Robin Thornton".
  4. Source: 1911 Census.
  5. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (09/Jul/1912) - Exeter Empire Theatre
  6. "Michael Balcon Presents a Lifetime of Films" - by Michael Balcon (1969), page 11.
  7. In his memoirs, Michael Balcon recalled that Compson could only emote in front of the camera when a small three-piece orchestra played for her off-camera.
  8. Balcon recalled in his memoirs that Hitchcock also worked as scriptwriter and art director on the film.
  9. In London's Hollywood: The Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years (2014), author Gary Chapman notes that the studio had initially planned to film The Prude's Fall as Compson's second picture, but then decided to adapt Michael Morton unpublished novel Children of Chance instead. This resulted in a hastily written scenario by Hitchcock which many of the press reviews felt was confusing.
  10. According to Michael Balcon, he went behind Woolf's back and screened The Lodger to the press who "received it enthusiastically". Ivor Montagu was then hired to tighten the film prior to its release in 1927.
  11. It is curious to note the Hitchcock's also named their daughter "Patricia".
  12. Gloucester Citizen (14/Sep/1926).
  13. Bioscope (15/Nov/1923), review of Woman to Woman (1923).
  14. For example, David Sterritt dismissed Cutts as "a hack who didn't take too kindly to Hitchcock".
  15. BFI Screenonline: Graham Cutts