The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez

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.


BROADWAY BAD, with Joan Blondell.


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.


Ricardo Cortez, Loretta Young, Franchot Tone.MIDNIGHT MARY


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 Cortez, Mary Astor


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.)


Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels. THE MALTESE FALCON


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!”


Ricardo Cortez, Dolores Del Rio, Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell. WONDER BAR.


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




With Kay Francis





6 responses »

  1. Indeed this is a most worthy book for fans of Ricardo Cortez or anyone interested in the era of classic films.

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