I hope I caught you in time with this DVR alert: Ricardo Cortez movies fill the Turner Classic Movies daytime schedule on Thursday, April 27, 2017. The nine Cortez films include Torrent (1926)—the only Greta Garbo release in which she was not first billed (Cortez was)—followed by eight titles released between 1929-1934, two of which feature lesser-seen early directorial efforts from Frank Capra and John Ford. The complete schedule is further down this page.
Cortez was born in September, so maybe TCM’s run of his movies is intended to mark tomorrow’s fortieth anniversary of his passing in 1977. Whatever the case, a Ricardo Cortez movie marathon is in fact perfectly timed to my nightstand, where sits a brand new, 584 photo-packed pages of Cortez biography by one of my favorite film historians, Dan Van Neste.
If you recognize Dan’s name, it may be from the byline of one of forty or so articles he’s had published in Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age magazines. Or maybe you’ve had the pleasure of digging into his compendium of all things Whistler and Richard Dix in his fantastic book The Whistler: Stepping into the Shadows, published 2011. That’s around the time I first came into contact with Dan, leading to one of the more popular interviews on the site. Finally, Dan Van Neste was kind enough to contribute the foreword to my own book,Helen Twelvetrees, Perfect Ingenue. I must add, Dan has impeccable taste: every time I want to write about my latest obsession, my first bit of research is often the discovery that Dan has already covered the subject (Cortez, Dix, Twelvetrees, but he’s also written about Warren William, Eric Blore, Aline MacMahon, Glenda Farrell, Helen Chandler, Marian Marsh, Gloria Dickson,Nancy Carroll, Claire Dodd, etc.). One of these days I’ll beat him!
Now I don’t want to let Dan completely hijack my Cortez preview, but as I’m about halfway through his new book, The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez, I can easily conclude that this subject is his for all of time. Many thanks again to the author for sending along a complimentary inscribed copy - now half-filled with dog-eared pages and penciled notes! Anyway, I’m far enough along to succinctly and sincerely recommend: Buy this book!
Back to today’s offerings. If you haven’t seen any of them then you must try to catch MGM’s Midnight Mary (1933), even if Cortez isn't behind the recommendation (it's a Loretta Young movie), and the original 1931 Warner Bros adaptation of The Maltese Falcon, featuring Cortez as Sam Spade. Replace the gloss of the 1941 classic with the grit more common to 1931, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how familiar (and effective) this first movie version is. If you’re rolling your eyes at me because you’ve already seen those two movies umpteen times, then be sure to see both John Ford’s Flesh (1932) and the RKO murder mystery The Phantom of Crestwood (1933), which has a fascinating back story. I’ve written about both of these movies already (that’s where those links will lead you), so I won’t go into any more detail here.
As an aside, other Ricardo Cortez related articles that I’ve posted to Immortal Ephemera include a look at his tragic first wife, silent film star Alma Rubens, and a hunt for the origins of the “Farnesbarnes” alias, which you might be curious about should you follow through and watch The Phantom of Crestwood.
What is it about Ricardo Cortez that makes him one of my own favorites? Personally, I don’t think he’s a great actor, but I do think he’s a great presence—a star. I’m most familiar with his work during the pre-Code era (heavily represented on TCM today), when, for me at least, he’s somebody whose name in the credits instantly adds a movie to my watch list. Dan Van Neste certainly isn’t stretching it when he titles his book The Magnificent Heel. That Cortez is. Despite often playing the baddie, Cortez brings class to the screen. He’s urbane in the exact opposite way that William Powell is urbane. More cultured than charming. In fact, Ricardo Cortez can so completely turn off his charm at times that you’d swear he’s sprouted scales and registers a temperature matching the room he’s just chilled.
For me, Cortez’ greatest screen attribute is his icy smile. I probably mention it—sometimes joke about it—in just about every Ricardo Cortez post on the site, but a flash of his teeth is always the first image to mind when I think Ricardo Cortez. Sometimes he’s just on the make, but usually (and sometimes even then), his characters are smiling because he despises you. Oh, not you personally, just the screen hero you’re rooting along with. It often comes after the hero has just bested him, and while it may represent indifference, it may just as likely be advertising one final trick up his slippery sleeve. You think you’ve got me? the smile says, No, I’ve got you. Usually he doesn’t—Cortez is, most often, the villain—but sometimes it previews one last obstacle for your hero.
Ricardo Cortez is without doubt the smarmiest villain of Hollywood’s pre-Code era.
Following is TCM’s Ricardo Cortez schedule for Thursday, April 27, 2017. All times Eastern Daylight Time:
- 6:15 am - Torrent (1926)
- 8:00 am - The Younger Generation (1929)
- 9:30 am - The Maltese Falcon (1931)
- 11:00 am - Transgression (1931)
- 12:15 pm - Flesh (1932)
- 2:00 pm - The House on 56th Street (1933)
- 3:15 pm - Midnight Mary (1933)
- 4:45 pm - The Phantom of Crestwood (1933)
- 6:15 pm - Hat, Coat and Glove (1934)
If you like these, other recommended Ricardo Cortez titles include the three movies he appeared in opposite Helen Twelvetrees: Her Man (1930), Bad Company (1931), and Is My Face Red? (1932), plus Symphony of Six Million (1932), an atypical role that was one of the best leads of his career.
You’ll find all of the articles and reviews I’ve already linked to, as well as any other Ricardo Cortez-related material on the site through this link.
I’ll have more on The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste, whether it be a review, an interview with the author,or both, at a future date.