Graham Cutts

Silent era's top British director

Sep 7, 1958
director, writer


His full name was Jack Graham Cutts. As he was fourteen years older than Hitchcock and with great experience too, working with him must have been a fantastic opportunity to learn plenty for the young Alfred. The prodigy didn't seem to be sharing this sentiment, but let's start from the beginning.

In the silent film era, Cutts was widely acknowledged as the greatest British director. As opposed to some others which also competed for the spot, he made both the audience and the critics love him.

Even in his golden years, it wasn't always sunshine and roses: some of his movies flopped commercially and some others were not as popular among critics. But when he managed to hit the sweet spot, jaws were dropping! He was exactly what the British needed and were looking for in the early XX century: a British director that could be compared to top Hollywood ones with absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

It wasn't all about morale though: the British movie industry was in a very poor condition around the 1915-1925 period and needed a spark, a local genius. Studios were looking to convince the audience that their own cinema is worth seeing and Cutts' work was a proof of that. Sparks began flying, and to make things sweeter, soon Hitchcock was to start his own show...

Cutts' quickly establishing cult status halted when the sound was added to the picture and early talkies emerged. It has proven to be a stumbling block for the director, and one that he couldn't overcome. His style of work could not fit into the new format and he couldn't rearrange himself to transfer his best qualities into it.

It wasn't of course a rare story - enormous amount of different people involved in early movies had problems adjusting to the new requirements and many didn't make it. Actress Pola Negri, actors John Gilbert and Reginald Denny all found it very hard. Director George Pearson had some moderate successes, but even in his best talkies he struggled with the format.

There were plenty of success stories too, like Greta Garbo, or Raymond Griffith, who could barely speak due to throat condition which made talkies a complete no-go, but his love for the cinema pushed him to find a different angle. And so he became a writer, and after more than a decade of this line of work, again switched to become a successful associate producer.

Cutts wasn't so fortunate though. After leaving Gainsborough, he made movies for more than a decade but they were just shadows of his former glory.


Comparisons to American movies looked particularly good for Cutts because he spoke a similar language to that of Hollywood. His movies were a little infantile because the story was often undercooked to make room for sugar.

His tracking shots were extremely good-looking. Analytic editing which was the Hollywood's bread and butter at the time Cutts incorporated into his style and was very swift and effective with it (here is a wonderful explanation of analytic editing). The director's camera angles were dramatic and sensational.

The word 'infantile' is a good description of his style, but it obviously has a negative connotation when speaking about an adult (and Cutts was one). The man didn't care about realism of the story that much. In fact, he completely ignored that way of planning. Instead, he used every opportunity to show off, to impress with high quality presentation which fuelled his scenes.

And he was so talented and good with this style that the story didn't seem lackluster even though it often was. The movies were satisfying, pleasant to watch, and it would be a big oversight to say that because stories had their flaws, that the films were simple affairs, because the craft with which they were made was amazing.

In her wonderful book Reframing British Cinema, 1918-1928: Between Restraint and Passion, Christine Gledhill writes: In terms of pictorialism, Cutts’s particular contribution lay in an instinctive sense of the power of the look, not only as a means of controlling others but as generator of projected internalised visions.


Cutts was on route to become marine engineer, but in 1909 he chose a new path for himself and started working as a film exhibitor. At one point, his friend Herbert Wilcox decided to start making his own movies. The two came to an agreement and Cutts became Wilcox's director. In 1919, the works on their first common picture The Wonderful Story have started.

The cooperation didn't last long, but luck worked in Graham's favor. Soon, three influential and talented people in the industry: Balcon, Freedman & Saville formed a new film company. They ran wild with the naming and their brand was dubbed "Balcon, Freedman & Saville". They concluded that Cutts is who they want to be their main director.

The first one was "Woman to Woman". It was Cutts' initiative, as it was originally a play by Michael Morton. The director thought it was a great movie material and bought the rights from Morton (a very popular practice at times when theater was much closer to the cinema than it is today). Next, he went to the three studio owners suggesting to make a movie based on it. Saville went to the United States to personally hire Betty Compson. She was offered £1,000 per week of filming and signed a two-film contract.

The £30,000 budget that the three company owners managed to put together wasn't enough for flashy stuff and they had to cut corners. They could only afford renting stages, for which purpose they chose Islington Studios. It so happened that Alfred Hitchcock was working there.

He caught Michael Balcon's eye and they had to make use of studio stuff to save money anyway. Given that the promising young boy was skilled in doing many jobs, getting him on board was a no-brainer for Balcon. On a set of Cutts' first movie with Hitchcock, Alfred started working closely with another fresh prospect who later became his wife - Alma Reville.

The movie became a huge commercial hit, so the next project was instantly green-lighted and works began quickly. The result was "The White Shadow" (which by the way was thought to be gone forever until recently half of it has been found and restored). Critics didn't like it and the audience largely ignored it.

In 1924, after another commercially unsuccessful movie titled "The Prude's Fall" (also directed by Cutts with Hitchcock by his side), Balcon, Freedman & Saville called it quits. That didn't stop the pair of directors from continuing their cooperation, as they made another two movies together: The Passionate Adventure and The Blackguard.

After the advent of talkies, he failed to prosper even though he was at the top of the Gainsborough pyramid. His another string of movies was for British International Pictures, but like said before, their quality was nowhere near his earlier works.

Relationship with Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock was very ambitious and talented, so he was quickly put to work. But when there was no more doubt that great things await this young man, the main director became jealous.

Graham Cutts wasn't an easy character to begin with. Many of his friends spoke of his arrogance, cockiness and narcissism. He was hostile and disrespectful to the people who worked below him. The two most vocal about it were Alfred Hitchcock and Adrian Brunel.

For Hitch, the breaking point was their famous trip to Berlin. After Cutts became famous, he got star-strucked and started chasing women left and right, constantly bragging about his sexual conquests while doing so. Hitchcock complained that he had to cover for him. One time, he got stuck with an Estonian lover in Calais on a way to England, because she didn't have the necessary travel papers. He had them, but instead of leaving her and going solo to keep schedule, he decided to stay with her. That forced the crew to turn the entire schedule on its head. And in this business, delay bleeds money heavily.

It was somewhat marred because director Graham Cutts was not our cup of tea. He didn’t appreciate Hitch, he knew very little, and actually we carried him. Then, he resented it. He was jealous of Hitch, who was intuitive and perfectly understood everything technical. Cutts was ready to depend on others, but not to share credit.
Alma Reville

The Prude's Fall was their last movie together with Cutts as director and Hitchcock as assistant director. Hasted and half-cooked, it expresses well the condition in which their relationship was at the time. Later, Graham briefly helped during the filming of Alfred's 39 Steps, but it wasn't a burying the hatchet gesture (more in trivia below).

Graham Cutts got back what he deserved and then some of what he didn't though too. Earlier mentioned pair of Hitchcock and Brunel soon became at least as popular as Cutts (Brunel for a short while - he too drowned when talkies came along) and they started talking plenty about life under Graham.

Alfred went further and "ganged up" with his wife and attacked his talent as well. Both claimed many times that they helped build his career more than he helped build theirs. Hitch stated he was doing plenty of full-time directing through the director, for which he never even got complimented by Cutts and that by himself Cutts was a mediocre and incompetent director.

In this case though, the truth seems to be somewhere in the middle and the proof is for anyone to see. Hitchcock's last statement is clearly not true, for example. Graham Cutts' silent movies without Hitch were very good and high quality and it doesn't take a movie critic to see it.

What's more, many critics who understand films better than we do argue that the young director must have learned a lot from his older colleague as some of his characteristic style seems to be influenced by Graham's.

It is of course hard to blame the great director if that was the case. When being constantly put down, ignored and thrown obstacles at, it's tough to notice the actual positive impact that the person had on his life. And even if Hitchcock has indeed learned nothing directly from him, those experiences have built him as a director and have catapulted his career. He went pretty quick from a card boy to working along the UK's greatest and that work along Cutts has opened him a road for a long and wonderful career.

Graham Cutts has paid for his sins thanks to the mounths of Hitchcock and others. Coupled with his average late movies, his reputation has been irreversibly damaged. Today, when we hear about Cutts, all too often we only hear about him in the context of Alfred Hitchcock (as is true with this article as well) and not as a wonderful director that he was on his own. Fortunately, lately this is slowly starting to change and scholars around the world are rediscovering his older movies and appreaciate their craft more and more.

Filmography with Hitchcock

Front cover of the movie Woman to Woman, showing... a woman.

Woman to Woman (1923)

A war love story between a dancer and a soldier. Based on Michael Morton's play with the same name, the movie was a big commercial success. Unfortunately, not even a single roll survived. As a consolation price, Victor Saville's 1929 adaptation, also with Betty Compson playing the main part (whom Saville signed for both of those movies), survived and it is a good movie.

Front cover of the movie The White Shadow, showing a roll of film with two pictures inside, both of the same woman.

The White Shadow (1924)

After a success with Morton's play adaptation, the studio decided to continue riding the Morton train and this time, they bought his unfinished novel. Cutts, Hitchcock and Compson are another common elements. Despite so many same people involved, the movie turned out to be a fiasco and Hitchcock's poor script was one of the reasons. To his justification, it was awfully rushed and Hitch worked under great pressure.

Front cover to the movie Prude's Fall is, unfortunately, gone.

The Prude's Fall (1924)

Rudolph Besier and May Edington's play adaptation. Despite the fiasco with The White Shadow, the company managed to get an interesting cast. It can only be speculated what kind of movie The Prude's Fall would be if not for Cutts' antics, but it is certain that they have degraded the film considerably. It was also screened with a different title - Dangerous Virtue.

An old back and white poster to the movie The Passionate Adventure, inside of it a woman talking to a man.

The Passionate Adventure (1924)

Morton, responsible for the story of the first two Hitchcock/Cutts movies, this time worked with Alfred to convert Frank Stayton's novel to a script. Critics praised the result for technical craft, as was by then very much expected from Cutts, but the story was a fatal flaw in it to many. The ending especially is a slap in the face.

A worn out, but colorful poster to a Royal Albert Hall screening of The Blackguard movie.

The Blackguard (1925)

Just like the remaining four ones, this too is an adaptation. The author of a novel with the same name was Raymond Paton. It is about a famous violinist who rescues a Russian princess from death and by doing so faces a man who he used to greatly admire. It was the first movie in a decade-lasting collaboration between Gainsborough and German Universum Film AG. The movie got a very good reception both among the critics and the audience.

Filmography solo

Another movie to which neither cover, nor even a poster could be found.

The Wonderful Story (1922)

The first Graham-Wilcox movie and Cutts' first movie overall. Despite failing at the box-office, it was a film that catapulted Lillian Hall-Davis into stardom. The talented woman was Hitchcock's favorite actress in the silent cinema years. He got to direct her in The Ring and The Farmer's Wife. The author of the novel on which this movie was based on was I.A.R. Wylie. Ten years later, Reginald Fogwell made another adaptation of that book.

A well preserved poster from the Cocaine movie: plain text, big title surrounded by quotation marks in the middle, with some additional surrounding lines of text.

Cocaine (1922)

The second movie of Graham's and already packing a huge shocking value. It is a tale about a gangster who takes revenge on a drug dealer for selling to his daughter cocaine that killed her. The irony, the terror, and the moralization. Despite the last one, Cutts must have been nervous for a while as censors looked at whether to release it or not. At first, they planned to ban it but the moralizing tone won them over. Its title had to be changed to While London Sleeps though.

A very poor quality poster of the movie Flames of Passion in which barely anything can be seen.

Flames of Passion (1922)

A wife of an attorney has a child with her chauffeur, she secretly gives birth, but the father kills it in a car accident that he causes. His trial begins. The movie has helped to rejuvenate the career of American actress Mae Marsh, who by the way was paid deerly to come to Britain and act in it. In the end, it worked out for both parties. Flames of Passion would write itself down in history even if it would turn out to be a disastrous movie - it was the first British film after World War I to be sold to the United States.

An interesting black, green, orange and white poster of the movie The Rat, with Novello taking majority of its space.

The Rat (1925)

One of best Cutts movies, if not the best. It has a very strong story, a cunning Parisian thief develops attraction for equally cunning and shady woman, but a woman from completely different circles - high class and filthy rich. As he has a relationship with a loyal and pure woman already, he has to choose between doing the right thing and setting himself up for a comfortable life. It is another Mae Marsh British success, and Ivor Novello - the star as bright as they came in 1920s, plays main male role and plays it wonderfully.

Patricia Cutts

An old photography of smiling Patricia.
Patricia Cutts

Patricia was a daughter of the director Graham Cutts and the actress Robin Coles. Just like her mother, she decided to go the acting route.

Her biggest movie roles were the supporting ones. The most popular of them was her brief appearance in North by Northwest when she twice screams for Cary Grant to stop. Under the guidance of Hitchcock, she worked two more times, in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes: Flight to the East (1958) and Body in the Barn (1964). Few other popular movies that Patricia starred in: I Was a Male Bride, The Tingler and The Man Who Loved Redheads.

Despite above-average looks and a surname that has surely opened many doors for her, she failed to break big time and make even one memorable supporting act. That pushed her out of the big screen and into the TV screen, where she fared better. TV has always attracted and accepted worse actors than the big screen (part of why it is called big screen), so it was easier for her to get a job, but she couldn't rebound back

In September 1974, at the age of 48 she took her own life - a combination of alcohol and barbiturates sent her to the other side. An investigation has concluded that she combined the two with intent to kill herself.

Some argue that the fact that Hitchcock let her perform for him is a proof that the Hitchcock-Cutts relationship was not as tense it was made to appear, but since Hitch and Cutts themselves provided majority of ammunition for the opposite argument, it's doubtful.


  • After fully realizing Hitchcock's potential, Cutts started trying to make sure that nobody believes in the young director's talent. The worst came when he should just have stayed quiet - when the movie The Lodger was finished and Hitchcock with his wife were nervously waiting for approval from the bosses, Cutts was one of the people who were asked to watch it and give their opinions. According to Michael Balcon, he told anybody who would listen that we had a disaster on our hands. The short-handed success of this dirty tactic only backfired - the movie was released and was quickly branded as the best film in the history of British cinema, outshining Cutts whose few movies were strong contenders for the title. On top of that, it damaged Graham authoriyu, as he couldn't be more vocal about his disapproval and couldn't be more wrong too.
  • Alfred Hitchcock once described the context of the last collaboration between him and Graham Cutts: When I was shooting The Thirty-nine Steps, there were some odd, extra shots to be done, and in order to speed up the production, the producer offered to get someone to do it. When I asked him whom he had in mind, he answered, “Graham Cutts.” I said, “No, I won’t have it. I used to work for him; I did the writing on Woman to Woman for him. How can I have him come on as my assistant?” And he answered, “Well, if you won’t use him, you’ll be doing him out of a job and he really needs the money.” So I finally agreed, but it’s a terrible thing".
  • During the unfortunate trip to Berlin, Hitchcock had an adventure he surely has remembered for the rest of his life. One time at night, Cutts and a man from UFA talked him into coming with them to a nightclub for homosexuals. In that place, two women started chatting them up and proposed to go somewhere else together, preferrably somewhere more private. Soon, all five of them plus at least one more person (the UFA representative's daughter) ended up in a hotel room where the women in particular continued to have great fun. First, they wanted to have sex with Alfred who was not interested, and then they went to a nearby bed to make quite a show in front of the small audience.
  • Hitchcock's negotiations for favorable contract terms with Gainsborough is a subject for a separate article, but what interests us in the context of Graham Cutts is that at one point the studio demanded him to direct a movie called The Silent Warrior. Hitch stood his ground and said he won't do it. As a result, Cutts was given the gig. The movie never saw the light of day though.