I wish some of my favorite stars had a fan like Dan Van Neste who has spent 4 years researching the life and career of RICARDO CORTEZ.
This biography has some of the most thorough research I have ever seen. The author has read countless books and articles about Cortez and his films. In a book of nearly 600 pages, there are 50 pages of bibliography and notes.
The book is in two parts , firstly biography and secondly, reviews of every film Cortez made.
So, who is Ricardo Cortez ( 1900 – 1977).
Well, he was the first Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON and in the silent era he had billing over Garbo in TORRENT (1926).
He made over 100 films and directed 7 . Active in Hollywood from the early 1920s, he was still performing in 1950 .
Although born Jacob Krantz in New York, Ricardo entered movies when Valentino was the big Latin star. Paramount was looking for a Valentino type and Krantz got a new name and film contract in 1923.
The Paramount publicity machine said that he was from Castile in Spain.
By 1928, Cortez , having left Paramount , was making ‘B’ movies for a studio called Tiffany Productions.
He became typecast as a movie bad guy, gangster, gambler. Even the lead in Warner’s THE MALTESE FALCON didn’t help. Warner Brothers also cast him as Perry Mason in THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT (1935). The role had been vacated by Warren William who had done 4 Perry Mason films.
In the early 1930s, Cortez was splitting his time between RKO, MGM, Warners and Universal, but by the early 40s, he was working at Monogram.
An unexpected turn in his career was when Twentieth Century Fox contracted Cortez to direct 7 films, one of which was FREE, BLONDE AND 21, with Lynn Bari and Mary Beth Hughes.
I asked the author about this period:
“I think Ricardo became interested in directing by the latter 1920s. He actually made his directorial debut in 1931 when Tay Garnett allowed him to direct several scenes of the crime drama, BAD COMPANY.”
Ricardo’s brother, Stanley adopted his surname and Dan Van Neste told me,
“Ricardo helped Stanley enter the industry by arranging apprenticeships with many of the great cinematographers . He and Stanley were very close throughout their lives. Stanley was an assistant cameraman on several of Ric’s pictures.”
(Stanley Cortez was Director of Photography on THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS ,SINCE YOU WENT AWAY and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.)
I asked Dan Van Neste what Cortez films he liked best, and how many of his silent films survived:
“My favorite Cortez films are ones in which he played flawed heroes or villains with redeeming qualities. I thought his ability to portray the duality of these characters was one of his greatest strengths as an actor.
Among my favorite Cortez characterisations are the immoral private detective, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1931); the unscrupulous gossip columnist who learns important life lessons the hard way in Is My Face Red?(1932);the crooked gambler who befriends a down-on-her-luck parolee in The House on 56th Street (1933); the ruthless gangster who has a soft spot for his beautiful young moll in Midnight Mary (1933); the morally conflicted attorney who decides to represent his wife’s lover in Hat,Coat and Glove (1934); and the crooked gambler whose decision to go straight has tragic consequences in Her Husband Lies (1937).
Sadly, of the 37 silent and partially silent films Ricardo made, only 17 have survived, and only 14 have survived with their original footage intact. Such a tragedy!”
I have only seen a few of Ricardo Cortez’s films and after reading this book, I shall be looking out for them in the future.
Dan Van Nest is also the author of THE WHISTLER, STEPPING INTO THE SHADOWS. For more information, visit http://danvanneste.com