Sunday, September 19, 2010

Calling a Spade a Spade


Have you possums seen the 1931 version of The Maltese Falcon? It's not as slick, and not nearly as fast-paced as the more famous '41 version; but it has a pre-Code sexiness that not even the heat between Bogie and Mary Astor can match. Plus, with Thelma Todd and Una Merkel in the cast, how can it be bad? But the topper is birthday boy Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade.


Cortez' portrayal of Sam Spade has been described as having "just the right mix of sleaze and charm," which pretty much sums up Cortez' basic appeal. He was a major star during the "Latin Lover" craze of the 1920's and 30's - even though he was born Jacob Kranz in Vienna! Cortez starred (top-billed, yet) with Garbo in Torrent (1926), her first Hollywood picture; and eased nicely into the Deco Thirties, suavely romancing the likes of Gail Patrick, Dolores Del Rio, and Kay Francis in a number of glamorous, if inconsequential films.

HER HUSBAND LIES (1937), with GAIL PATRICK

WONDER BAR (1934), with DOLORES DEL RIO

THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933), with KAY FRANCIS


By the end of the Thirties, however, Cortez' career was on a downward slide, his brand of slickly-tailored, slightly dangerous elegance a relic of the Deco age. Wartime America demanded a different kind of hero, and Ricardo Cortez was no Bogart - his successor in the role of Sam Spade. Cortez eventually retired from films by the end of the 1940's, and became a highly successful stockbroker on Wall Street. He passed away in 1976, at age 78.


RICARDO CORTEZ
September 19, 1900 - April 28, 1977

2 comments:

  1. I like the 1936 Warren William/Bette Davis version too. "Satan Met a Lady." Not quite as sexy, but rip-roaring early talkie repartee.

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  2. Bette HATED "Satan Met a Lady," and her vocal contempt for it, combined with its lack of availability for years, probably contributed to its lowly reputation; but when I finally saw it, I was rather charmed - it was funnier than I thought it would be (it's definitely played for laffs), and I thought Warren William quite the likeable, rakish cad.

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