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Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 26th, 2017, 8:08 pm

moira finnie wrote:Image
Above: Alma Rubens (1897-1931). Ricardo Cortez was later quoted as saying that when first seen on a city street: "I saw her pale face and dark luminous eyes. I’ll admit I was overcome. I walked back and forth watching her—trying not to be too apparent in my admiration."

Ricardo Cortez's struggle to help his first wife Alma Rubens and the questionable but widespread impression of him that her posthumously published memoir left with the public may have made things more difficult for him--just when he was making a transition to sound and coming out from the Valentino shadow that his studio-chosen identity.

Did this period of his life make him more leery of personal disclosure for the rest of his life?

Do you think that that Rubens' negative, unverified assertions about Cortez contributed to the end of his days as a leading man?

_________________________________________________________________

Frankly, I enjoy the actor as a stylish pre-code heel much more than the traditional leading man characters. He is often superbly smarmy--seducing Veree Teasdale's daughter in The Firebird (1934), selling Kay Francis into white slavery in Mandalay (1934), & just being vile to Dolores del Rio in Wonder Bar (1934).

However, it occurs to me that he was probably capable of so much more light-hearted work than opportunity brought him. His quietly thoughtful dramatic portrayals in Hat, Coat & Glove and Symphony of Six Million deserve to be seen more, but they are as underrated as his comedic characterizations. Perhaps his very naughty Sam Spade in the original version of The Maltese Falcon (1931) and his turn as a Broadway denizen in Is My Face Red (1932) were more in tune with the era's wisecracking spirit, but his performances in both really were entertaining and energetic portraits of unapologetic scamps. They seemed to bring out the naturalism in his acting too. Are there other movies where you find Cortez interpreting his part in a more comic vein?

Here's a nifty glimpse of a fast-talking Cortez in Is My Face Red? (1932):
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The story of Alma and Ric dominates three chapters of the biography section of my book, “The Magnificent Heel” for good reason. For better and for worse, Alma Rubens had a profound effect on Cortez’s life. Outside of his parents, I do not believe there was another person in his life who had a greater impact.

Ric loved Alma. He trusted her, and confided in her. I believe she also loved him, but they were ill equipped for marriage. Both were selfish and self-centered actors who found compromise impossible. In addition, when Alma married Ric, she was harboring a dark secret: a growing addiction to morphine which would eventually take total control over her life. Ric was young, inexperienced, and totally ill equipped to deal with his wife’s headline making problems and her domineering mother. He tried his best, but as time progressed, and his wife’s condition became more and more severe, (Alma was eventually sent to an Insane Asylum.), he came to the realization he could not live with her.

After she was released, they formally separated, and a hurt, vengeful Alma set out to destroy her estranged husband who was in the midst of mounting a film career comeback after a successful vaudeville tour in which he proved he had a fine speaking voice. The publication of Alma’s memoirs in 1931 (in which she painted a totally negative portrait of Ricardo), did hurt him professionally and reinforced the opinions of his detractors, but did not derail his career as she apparently hoped. Luckily for him, his superb performance as the brutal pimp in the sensationally popular, HER MAN (RKO, 1931) had already cemented his comeback, and Alma’s memoirs, although damaging, did not destroy his reemergence as a star during the new sound era.

What Alma’s memoirs and her betrayal of him did do was reinforce Ric's trust issues. This is my opinion, but I do not believe he ever totally trusted another individual or let down his guard with another person as he did with Alma. This lack of trust, and unwillingness to be more forthcoming with the press, negatively impacted him professionally. There were other factors at play, but Cortez's personality and trust issues ultimately did effect his movie career and limited his days as a leading man.

Regarding his film performances, I think the majority of classic movie fans would agree with you. Cortez was a sensational movie troublemaker or villain. His rogues were unique: well dressed, charming, sexy, but ruthless. His heroic impersonations were not nearly as colorful, although he was entirely persuasive as a good guy, and interestingly, played almost as many heroes as heels during his long career. Glad you brought up IS MY FACE RED? (RKO, 1932) That is my favorite Cortez role. I think he is sensational, totally natural as the amoral, wisecracking gossip columnist, William Poster. He received superlative reviews for that performance, and might have proven to be an excellent comic actor if given more chances like it. Alas, for whatever reason, he was not. There were many serious films (dramas, melodramas, adventures, etc.) in which Cortez had a few humorous lines, but outside of WORLD PREMIERE (Paramount, 1941) in which Cortez played an egotistical actor, he never played a part like Poster again. What a waste!!

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby WarrenHymersMoll » August 27th, 2017, 10:13 am

Good morning, Dan!! It's great to have you with us this Sunday and I thank you again for spending the weekend with us talking about the great Ricardo Cortez!!

You mentioned earlier that he was rude to Greta Garbo off-screen. Conversely, did any of Ricardo's co-stars find him to be a pleasant person to work with? He radiates a likability on-screen even in his villainous roles that, despite his reputation as a private person, makes me think he could be an interesting person to speak with about a subject which interested him.

Also, he was in only two feature films in the 1950s and his last IMDB credit is an episode of Bonanza in 1960. Ricardo looked REALLY good in his final screen appearance and was just as great as ever. Was he largely in retirement by this point and just acting as a side job? I feel like television in the 1950s, 60s and 70s really missed out on having him as a special guest star.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 12:16 pm

WarrenHymersMoll wrote:Good morning, Dan!! It's great to have you with us this Sunday and I thank you again for spending the weekend with us talking about the great Ricardo Cortez!!

You mentioned earlier that he was rude to Greta Garbo off-screen. Conversely, did any of Ricardo's co-stars find him to be a pleasant person to work with? He radiates a likability on-screen even in his villainous roles that, despite his reputation as a private person, makes me think he could be an interesting person to speak with about a subject which interested him.

Also, he was in only two feature films in the 1950s and his last IMDB credit is an episode of Bonanza in 1960. Ricardo looked REALLY good in his final screen appearance and was just as great as ever. Was he largely in retirement by this point and just acting as a side job? I feel like television in the 1950s, 60s and 70s really missed out on having him as a special guest star.


Good morning, everyone! Nice to be back with you again! Thank you so much for all the great questions yesterday and this wonderful showcase! I’m honored to be here, and look forward to addressing all your inquiries. Before we get to your questions, let me again begin this day by sending my friends and all the great people in Texas my best wishes. We can only hope the rains will subside and things will improve for them very soon!

Now for your two great questions. Despite his onscreen charisma and the extroverted nature of the characters he played in the movies, in life Cortez was a very private, guarded person who did not make friends easily. If he thought coworkers or various craftsmen were being disrespectful to him, he could be quite outspoken and testy, but was basically polite on the set, but hard to get to know. Many of his coworkers mistook his natural reticence for arrogance. Opinions about him were decidedly mixed among his costars. Some of his leading ladies like Gloria Swanson, Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Virginia Bruce, Frances Farmer, Laraine Day, Jean Parker liked and /or admired him a great deal, others like Stanwyck, Mary Astor, Garbo tolerated him, while others like Loretta Young, Lina Basquette, Kay Linaker disliked or despised him.

Once you became a friend, Cortez was undoubtedly a very interesting person to talk to. Despite his lack of a formal education, he was intelligent, well read, and very well spoken, with a multitude of interests outside of filmmaking, including sports, physical fitness, men’s fashion, and financial investments. Cortez was a very talented, knowledgeable investor who made a fortune in the stock market and various real estate and business ventures.

Although I personally believe he could have been lured into doing more television work during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, by the end of the 1940’s, Cortez had become tired of playing villainous parts and basically retired from acting after he did BUNCO SQUAD for RKO in 1950. Of course, he came out of retirement to make the all-star drama, THE LAST HURRAH for John Ford in 1958, but that was a special project which he did as a favor to Ford (who had directed him in FLESH, 1932). By the 1950’s, Cortez was financially secure, happily married to his third wife, Margarette, heavily involved in his investment and business ventures, and enjoying a life doing exactly as he wished. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Mr. and Mrs. Cortez traveled around the world. They gave up their apartment in Hollywood during the early 1960’s and made their permanent residence in New York City.

Yes, he still looked good in the Bonanza episode. He was a physical fitness devotee who kept himself in shape. At the time he did the episode, he told an interviewer he had the same waste size as he had in the 1930’s.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 27th, 2017, 1:03 pm

Thanks for returning today, Dan!

Could you please discuss Cortez's relationship with some of the directors that the actor worked with during his career, such as James Cruze, D.W. Griffith, William Wellman, Michael Curtiz & John Ford, among others?

What do you think inspired Ricardo to try to become a director?

I have seen only one of his directorial efforts, Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939), which seemed to me to be a decently made road movie with a dash of Depression era bitter idealism and several very good actors (Nicholas--later Richard--Conte, and a rash of great character actors such as Raymond Walburn, Marjorie Rambeau, Ward Bond, Paul Hurst among others). Your book indicated that it was not a happy experience for Ricardo Cortez. Did he discover that he was temperamentally ill-suited to the work or was there another reason that this was the last of his efforts in that aspect of filmmaking?
Image
Above: Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939) with (left to right): Jean Rogers, Raymond Walburn, Glenn Ford & Nicholas (Richard) Conte. The latter two actors were making their feature debut.

Thanks in advance for any insights you can share.
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 2:30 pm

moira finnie wrote:Thanks for returning today, Dan!

Could you please discuss Cortez's relationship with some of the directors that the actor worked with during his career, such as James Cruze, D.W. Griffith, William Wellman, Michael Curtiz & John Ford, among others?

What do you think inspired Ricardo to try to become a director?

I have seen only one of his directorial efforts, Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939), which seemed to me to be a decently made road movie with a dash of Depression era bitter idealism and several very good actors (Nicholas--later Richard--Conte, and a rash of great character actors such as Raymond Walburn, Marjorie Rambeau, Ward Bond, Paul Hurst among others). Your book indicated that it was not a happy experience for Ricardo Cortez. Did he discover that he was temperamentally ill-suited to the work or was there another reason that this was the last of his efforts in that aspect of filmmaking?
Image
Above: Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence (1939) with (left to right): Jean Rogers, Raymond Walburn, Glenn Ford & Nicholas (Richard) Conte. The latter two actors were making their feature debut.

Thanks in advance for any insights you can share.


The list of Cortez’s directors is a virtual who’s who of the profession. Names like Cruze, Dwan, Griffith, DeMille, Wellman, Ford, Capra, Curtiz, Lloyd, Garnett, etc. Unlike some of his working relationships with costars, by and large, Cortez maintained good to excellent relationships with virtually all of his directors, and they in turn, had a high opinion of him. He respected their roles and welcomed their guidance. He also studied their techniques. Even as early as the 1920’s, Cortez was confiding to intimates he eventually hoped to work behind the camera himself.

He forged close bonds with several of his directors. He worked with the great silent director James Cruze four times and learned a great deal from him. Cruze guided him to one of his most atypical and persuasive early performances as Frisco Jack Weston in Cruze’s THE PONY EXPRESS which won universal acclaim when it was released. He also was quite close to Griffith during the ordeal of making THE SORROWS OF SATAN (Paramount, 1926). In one of his very few latter day interviews, Cortez told film historian Kevin Brownlow he managed to become close with Griffith even though, “I was under the impression he was a very lonely man.” Another of his celebrated directors he became quite fond of was Gregory LaCava who guided his performance in his most personal film, SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (RKO, 1932). LaCava had a very high opinion of Cortez the actor and the man. He called Cortez “a very sensitive man,” and said Cortez seemed unapproachable or distant to many because “he was forced to adopt his armor or he would have been trampled.”

I don’t know all the reasons Cortez wanted to become a director, but I know he LOVED making movies, and likely felt directing was a way for him to utilize his knowledge, and remain active in the film industry in later life. Of course, he eventually fulfilled his dream of directing when he signed a three way pact (to act, write, and direct) for Twentieth Century Fox in 1938. All in all he directed seven low budget motion pictures during the period 1938-40, and discovered a lot about himself in the process. Although he showed genuine ability in crafting entertaining, sometimes compelling scenes from the skeletal scripts he was given, and received almost uniformly excellent reviews for his pictures, Cortez quickly became frustrated with the process. His boss, Sol Wurtzel was difficult to work for, budgets were tight, and the pressures were unbelievable. Cortez, who tended to be a rather controlling person, became especially frustrated by his utter lack of control over casting, and final edits. Things came to a head while making the Depression era comic drama, HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE (1939) when Cortez treated newcomer Glenn Ford cruelly on the set. By 1940, when his contract expired, Ric decided against a renewal. He claimed he wanted to return to acting, but my guess is, by then, he realized he did not have the people-handling skills or the patience needed to be a successful director, particularly a B-movie director at Twentieth Century Fox. If anyone has the Fox Film Channel out there, be sure to check out BARBED WIRE FENCE the next time it is broadcast. I think it’s a charming, very entertaining little picture (co-scripted by the great Dalton Trumbo).

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby clore » August 27th, 2017, 2:49 pm

Thank you for your appearance here given all else going on. Not so much a question here as I'd need to know a bit more before being able to ask one. I do look forward to reading your book as I've wondered just how circumspect Mr. Cortez was about it all. I've often pointed to his career as an example of the vagaries of the studio system. There's the actor in the start of the 30s with leading ladies like Mary Astor, Irene Dunne and Kay Francis. At the end of the decade he's supporting Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. Sure, he was financially successful and didn't have the need to work but neither did Randolph Scott and he went through the paces until he was 64 despite having more money than most of those for whom he worked.

Anyway, good luck with the book, I'll order one soon.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 27th, 2017, 3:42 pm

Thank you guys for posting comments and questions. Keep 'em coming, please!

Anyone who wonders about purchasing this book*--I would recommend it as a wonderfully detailed account of Ricardo Cortez's life in the first half, but also for the second part of the book, which details each of the actor's films, including anecdotes, production notes and arcane trivia that is the result of an incredible amount of research on Dan's behalf. He also includes a complete bibliography for both sections and a full index.

I have already begun referring to the Films section as a frequent source of information when enjoying a TCM feature.

One thing I was wondering about, Dan--how did you decide to construct the book this way?

____________________________________________________________

*Hardcover, paperback and e-book editions are all available:
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss ... +van+neste
https://bearmanormedia.selz.com/search? ... rdo+cortez
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 3:49 pm

clore wrote:Thank you for your appearance here given all else going on. Not so much a question here as I'd need to know a bit more before being able to ask one. I do look forward to reading your book as I've wondered just how circumspect Mr. Cortez was about it all. I've often pointed to his career as an example of the vagaries of the studio system. There's the actor in the start of the 30s with leading ladies like Mary Astor, Irene Dunne and Kay Francis. At the end of the decade he's supporting Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. Sure, he was financially successful and didn't have the need to work but neither did Randolph Scott and he went through the paces until he was 64 despite having more money than most of those for whom he worked.

Anyway, good luck with the book, I'll order one soon.


Thank you for participating and your interest in my book. I’ve been profiling movie stars and examining movie careers for almost thirty years. There are a lot of factors which impact a Hollywood career. Although I’m a fan, I don’t know enough about Scott’s career (his life and motivations) to compare him to Cortez.

As for Cortez, his career reached its zenith playing scoundrels and villains during the sexually more liberal early sound era, a.k.a. the pre-Code period. When the Production Code Administration was created with Joe Breen as its head in July, 1934, to strictly enforce “a standard of good taste,” many careers were severely impacted. Cortez’s was one of them. At the time, he was one of the cinema’s most charismatic antiheroes. An important part of the attractiveness of the roles he played (and his popularity) was based on the salacious relationships and criminal activities his characters were free to carry on in films. The new code enforcement severely curtailed this, thus “sanitizing Cortez’s sin,” making many of his characters less intriguing. Some bad decisions, bad luck, studio politics, broken promises, his interest in directing, and various outside interests were a few of the other factors impacting Cortez’s career and his decision to quit acting in the 1960's. The book covers all this in great detail.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby Countessdelave » August 27th, 2017, 3:56 pm

Hi Dan,

Thanks for being here and giving us insights into the life and career of Ricardo Cortez.

You already addressed the question of Ricardo and Stanley working together but my my main question is: why did Stanley take on the Cortez name? We already know that Ricardo Cortez was a studio-given name. Was it to perpetuate the studio myth or was it to take advantage of his brother's fame?

We've seen many siblings in the business that used different names. It always made me curious that Stanley used Cortez.

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 4:34 pm

Countessdelave wrote:Hi Dan,

Thanks for being here and giving us insights into the life and career of Ricardo Cortez.

You already addressed the question of Ricardo and Stanley working together but my my main question is: why did Stanley take on the Cortez name? We already know that Ricardo Cortez was a studio-given name. Was it to perpetuate the studio myth or was it to take advantage of his brother's fame?

We've seen many siblings in the business that used different names. It always made me curious that Stanley used Cortez.


My pleasure. A super good question. It’s so good I can’t answer it, at least with certainty. :D To my knowledge, Stanley never revealed why he decided to take the Cortez name. He might have been motivated by ambition, or simply as a way to pay respect to the man who was responsible for his career. As stated previously, Stanley was very close to Ric. Ric was a father figure to him, and had legally changed his name (to Cortez) by the time Stanley began his own career. Notably Ric’s other brother, Bernard, who also worked in the industry for decades (largely in sales, later as one of the pioneers of Cinerama), did not adopt the Cortez name. He was known as Bernard Kranze. Thanks for asking!!

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 5:05 pm

moira finnie wrote:Thank you guys for posting comments and questions. Keep 'em coming, please!

Anyone who wonders about purchasing this book--I would recommend it as a wonderfully detailed account of Ricardo Cortez's life in the first half, but also for the second part of the book, which details each of the actor's films, including anecdotes, production notes and arcane trivia that is the result of an incredible amount of research on Dan's behalf. He also includes a complete bibliography for both sections and a full index.

I have already begun referring to the Films section as a frequent source of information when enjoying a TCM feature.

One thing I was wondering about, Dan--how did you decide to construct the book this way?


Thank you for the kind comments about the book, Moira! Both my research assistants and I are gratified to learn you are referring to the book when one of the films contained in it is broadcast on TCM! :D We literally scoured the country looking for material, including all the trivia items.

I have always tried to structure my articles and books in such a way as to address fans’ interests and concerns. I am an author, but I’m also a fan of classic films and vintage filmmakers. I know what I like to see in biographical books and articles, and try my best to include those things.
“The Magnificent Heel” was a dream project. I’ve wanted to do a biography like this for decades, and BearManor Media allowed me the freedom to do this book as I wanted. They even hired the person I wanted as my designer (who, in my humble opinion, did a splendid job). I’m VERY GRATEFUL!

The book (which is almost 600 pages) is divided into roughly two equal parts. The first part is a biography. The second part is a filmography, featuring separate sections on each of the 100+ feature films Cortez made. Among the subsections in Part II are trivia items gleaned from various archives and libraries across the U.S. Also notable, is a section on the availability of each movie. This is especially important because so many of Cortez’s silent pictures and a handful of his talkies are considered lost.

One more thing. The last chapter of Part I-- the biography is titled, “Ricardo Cortez, One Author’s View.” In it, I share my impressions of Ricardo as an actor, and as a man, separate from the biography. In that chapter, I do my best to answer three key questions posed in the introduction. 1) Who was Ricardo Cortez, both personally and professionally? 2) Why has he been forgotten? 3) What is his true legacy?

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 27th, 2017, 6:04 pm

For many of us interested in Cortez, I think his masterful, long forgotten portrayal of Sam Spade in the first version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1931) was a revelation when seen in the last few years. Not only is he very tough, he is also playful, stylish, not above making a (supposed) lady strip, and honestly interested in finding the truth about the black bird--all while dallying with just about every female in the film, and making a buck--though not necessarily in any particular order.

As much as I respect and love many of Bogart's stellar performances, I really feel that Cortez gave a more intriguing portrayal of Spade, unhampered by the production code strictures and maybe even closer in spirit to the Hammett book.

Was the Roy del Ruth-directed film shelved and forgotten at the time of the much revered John Huston version by Warner Brothers?

Were the reviews of the movie at the time a boon to Ricardo's career?

Here's a sample of the movie for those who may not have seen it:

phpBB [video]
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby moira finnie » August 27th, 2017, 6:27 pm

In your view, which of the studios where Cortez worked do you think gave him the best roles?

Was his desire to be a compliant employee, accepting most scripts, helpful to his career?

You mentioned that Ricardo was a very astute businessman and he appeared to be friendly with several moguls. Was he ever tempted to become a movie exec as his acting career waned?
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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 7:22 pm

moira finnie wrote:For many of us interested in Cortez, I think his masterful, long forgotten portrayal of Sam Spade in the first version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1931) was a revelation when seen in the last few years. Not only is he very tough, he is also playful, stylish, not above making a (supposed) lady strip, and honestly interested in finding the truth about the black bird--all while dallying with just about every female in the film, and making a buck--though not necessarily in any particular order.

As much as I respect and love many of Bogart's stellar performances, I really feel that Cortez gave a more intriguing portrayal of Spade, unhampered by the production code strictures and maybe even closer in spirit to the Hammett book.

Was the Roy del Ruth-directed film shelved and forgotten at the time of the much revered John Huston version by Warner Brothers?

Were the reviews of the movie at the time a boon to Ricardo's career?

Here's a sample of the movie for those who may not have seen it:

phpBB [video]


I admire your courage to go out on a limb and tell the world, I like Cortez as Sam Spade better than Bogie! GOOD FOR YOU!! You’re currently in the minority, but the ranks of Cortez as Spade admirers are growing rapidly!!

People are so passionate when it comes to THE MALTESE FALCON. They become positively irate if someone dares to have another viewpoint!! I believe both versions were excellent! And if you are a devotee of the 1941 Huston directed/Bogart FALCON, it is doubtful it would have been so good if it were not for its 1931 ancestor. Huston was clearly influenced by Del Ruth version and copied many of the scenes from the original. I am perplexed by some of the hostility to the 1931 FALCON, but as the old saying goes, “times are a changing.”

The fascinating story of the making of this pre-Code classic is related in my Cortez biography. It took lots and lots of leg work to track down all the details so I won’t give them all away here, but I’ll just say this, those who claim Cortez played the part completely wrong (proving he was a “limited” actor” are ignorant of the story. On two weeks notice, Cortez was brought in to play Spade and played the role exactly according to the script. His performance dominated the film. Warners, who had borrowed his services from RKO, was so impressed by his work and preview audiences’ response to it, they changed the name of the film, from WOMAN OF THE WORLD (which had been selected as the title to emphasize BeBe Daniels’ character) back to THE MALTESE FALCON.

When the film premiered it was a big hit with audiences and critics. Moviegoers loved the film’s combination of mystery, intrigue, humor, and sex. They were enthralled by the suave, debonair, funny, and ruthless detective Sam Spade as portrayed by Cortez. Critics were positively giddy about the movie and his performance. The Los Angeles Examiner called the movie, “a gripping story, full of suspense and drama. . . Mr. Cortez gives a brilliant performance. . ." The New York Times said the movie “brought back the reassuring hum which is the hallmark of a contented audience,” and complimented Cortez who they said played Spade with “disarming ease and warmth. . .”

The excellent reviews were definitely helpful to Cortez at a critical time in his career just as his late wife’s memoirs (which painted him as a cold, selfish liar) were being published in installments across the country. His performance as Spade undoubtedly helped him to solidify his comeback. In fact, after its premiere, RKO announced they would star him in several vehicles.

One last thing. To those who, in recent years, have called Cortez a “poor actor” and a “second rate Sam Spade,” I have this response. During my research on the making of this picture, I happened on a very interesting testimonial to Cortez as Spade which I do not believe has ever been published. It was written in 1931 by none other than the author Dashiell Hammett. It was included in the book. I rest my case!

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Re: Ricardo Cortez Q & A with Dan Van Neste on 8-26 & 8-27

Postby DanVanNeste » August 27th, 2017, 8:29 pm

moira finnie wrote:In your view, which of the studios where Cortez worked do you think gave him the best roles?

Was his desire to be a compliant employee, accepting most scripts, helpful to his career?

You mentioned that Ricardo was a very astute businessman and he appeared to be friendly with several moguls. Was he ever tempted to become a movie exec as his acting career waned?


Which studio gave him the best roles? Cortez did some good work for four studios: Paramount, RKO, Warner Brothers, and on loan to MGM. A case could be made for any of the four, but I would say overall, he reached the peak of his career as an RKO contract player and did HER MAN (for Pathe just before it was merged with RKO), SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932), IS MY FACE RED? (1932) , HAT, COAT, AND GLOVE (1934), and the very popular mystery, PHANTOM OF CRESTWOOD (1932) for RKO.

One of the major questions I attempted to answer in the book is why Cortez, given his popularity and fame, is relatively obscure today. I believe one of the major reasons is he was a cooperative, compliant employee throughout his Hollywood years. As long as they paid him what they owed him, he accepted whatever work they assigned. As a whole, his decision to accept all assignments without complaint kept him working in the industry he loved, and making money, but did nothing to enhance his reputation as an actor. He eventually began to rebel at Warners, especially after they began laying him off, but by then, his career as a leading man was all largely over.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Cortez was buddies with many of the moguls including Zanuck, and Jack Warner. He understood them, and as an investor himself, related to many of their concerns. I believe his friendship with some of the movie bosses was one of the reasons he wasn’t always the most popular actor among his costars and acting colleagues. I also think Cortez would have made a GREAT movie mogul after his acting career waned. He knew the business inside out, and understood the needs of everyone involved. He apparently aspired to be a mogul and almost became one when he, producer Charlie Rogers, and others attempted to acquire Universal Pictures in the mid 1930’s. The deal fell through, but it is fascinating to speculate how this might have impacted his life if the acquisition had succeeded. Of course we’ll never know.


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