Stanley Cortez

Active - 1936 - 1977  |   Born - Nov 4, 1908   |   Died - Dec 23, 1997   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Mystery, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American cinematographer Stanley Cortez's given name was Krantz; he had it changed professionally following the lead of his older brother, film star Ricardo Cortez. While attending New York University, Cortez became an assistant cameraman for the various movie studios operating in Manhattan. He briefly pursued the occupation of portrait photographer before returning full-time to movie work at the end of the silent era. He remained an assistant and associate photographer during the early 1930s, with time out to direct the 1932 short subject Scherzo. By 1937, Cortez was a director of photography at Universal Pictures, confined to the studio's "B" product. Beyond such mood pieces as the 1941 comedy/horror film The Black Cat, there was little opportunity for Cortez to develop a style of his own, though word got around that he could attain evocative results with a minimum of fuss. Orson Welles signed Cortez to shoot his Citizen Kane follow-up The Magnificent Ambersons in late 1941. Throwing out all the economy and efficiency he'd learned on his Universal "B"s, Cortez proceeded to eat up valuable production time in achieving his admittedly marvelous photographic effects. RKO held Cortez partially responsible for the cost overrun (and ultimate failure) of Ambersons, and as a result his next two important assignments--Universal's Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Since You Went Away (1944)--were filmed in collaboration with other, less time-consuming cinematographers. Nonetheless, it is Magnificent Ambersons for which Cortez will always be remembered, and for which he won an award from the Film Critics of America. Cortez's first Technicolor assignment, The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) made quite an impression on Charles Laughton, the film's star; when Laughton directed the deliberately stylized Night of the Hunter (1955) six years later, Cortez was behind the camera. While there would be the occasional "A" picture to his credit, most of Cortez's subsequent photography was confined to such low-budget films as The Naked Kiss (1964), Dillinger (1965) and Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)--all magnificently shot if nothing else. Perhaps Cortez' oddest assignment in the latter stages of his career was the mid-1950s melodrama Madmen of Mendora, which was never released in its original form; in 1964, Cortez' superb camerawork for this project was spliced together with artlessly shot new footage, and the result was the notorious They Saved Hitler's Brain (1964). Several of Cortez' assignments in the 1970s were in the "special photography" or title-sequence category, e.g. Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon (1970), Damien--The Omen II (1978) and When Time Ran Out (1980). Cortez also dabbled in television work from time to time, notably on the all-star TV-movie suspensor Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1971). Cortez died of heart failure in Los Angeles on December 23, 1997. He was 92 years old.

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