Cinematographer. Nationality: American. Born: Stanislaus Krantz in New York City, 4 November 1908; brother of the actor Ricardo Cortez. Education: Attended New York University. Military Service: Photographer for Signal Corps during World War II. Career: 1920s—worked with portrait photographers Edward Steichen, Pirie MacDonald, and Bachrach; then worked for various studios in New York and Hollywood as assistant and cameraman; 1932—directed the short film Scherzo ; 1936—first film as cinematographer, Four Days' Wonder ; after the war, under personal contract to David O. Selznick, Orson Welles, Walter Wanger, etc.; also worked for television. Died: 23 December 1997, in Hollywood, California, of a heart attack.
Scherzo (+ d, sc—short)
Four Days' Wonder (Salkow)
The Wildcatter (Collins); Armored Car (Foster)
The Black Doll (Garrett) (co); The Last Express (Garrett); Lady in the Morgue ( The Case of the Missing Blonde ) (Garrett); Danger on the Air (Garrett); Personal Secretary (Garrett); Exposed (Schuster)
Risky Business (Lubin); They Asked for It (McDonald); For Love or Money ( Tomorrow at Midnight ) (Rogell); Hawaiian Nights (Rogell); The Forgotten Woman (Young); Laugh It Off ( Lady Be Gay ) (Rogell)
Alias the Deacon (Cabanne); Love, Honor, and Oh, Baby! (Lamont); The Leatherpushers (Rawlins); Margie (Garrett and Smith); Meet the Wildcat (Lubin); A Dangerous Game (Rawlins)
The Black Cat (Rogell); San Antonio Rose (Lamont); Moonlight in Hawaii (Lamont); Badlands of Dakota (Green); Sealed Lips (Waggner); Bombay Clipper (Rawlins)
Eagle Squadron (Lubin); The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles)
The Powers Girl ( Hello Beautiful ) (McLeod); Flesh and Fantasy (Duvivier)
Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (co)
Smash-Up ( A Woman Destroyed ) (Heisler); Secret behind the Door (F. Lang)
Smart Woman (Blatt)
The Man on the Eiffel Tower (Meredith)
The Underworld Story ( The Whipped ) (Endfield); The Admiral Was a Lady (Rogell)
The Basketball Fix ( The Big Decision ) (Feist); Fort Defiance (Rawlins); De l'autre côté de l'eau ( From the Other Side of the Water ) (Darene—short) (co)
Stronghold (Sekely); Models, Inc. ( Call Girl ; That Kind of Girl ) (LeBorg); Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (Lamont)
The Neanderthal Man (Dupont); The Diamond Queen (Brahm); Dragon's Gold (Wisberg and Pollexfen); Shark River (Rawlins); Riders to the Stars (Carlson)
Black Tuesday (Fregonese)
The Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
Man from Del Rio (Horner)
Top Secret Affair ( Their Secret Affair ) (Potter); The Three Faces of Eve (Johnson)
Thunder in the Sun (Rouse); Vice Raid (Cahn)
The Angry Red Planet (Melchior); Dinosaurus! (Yeaworth); Back Street
Madmen of Mandoras ( Return of Mr. H ) (Bradley)
Shock Corridor (Fuller); A Comedy Tale of Fanny Hill (Goodwins—short); Nightmare in the Sun (Lawrence)
The Naked Kiss (Fuller)
Young Dillinger (Morse); The Navy versus the Night Monsters ( Monsters in the Night ) (Hoey)
Blue (Narizzano): The Bridge at Remagen (Guillermin)
Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon (Preminger) (co)
The Date (Hansley); Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate (Post)
Un autre homme, une autre chance ( Another Man, Another Woman ) (Lelouch)
Gold Diggers of 1935 (Berkeley)
On Blue in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), July 1968.
In Sources of Light , edited by Charles Higham, London, 1970.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1976.
Cinématographe (Paris), June 1981.
On The Night of the Hunter in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), December 1982.
Lightman, Herb A., on Back Street in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1961.
Lightman, Herb A., on The Bridge at Remagen in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1969.
Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.
Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.
McGilligan, P., in Take One (Madison, Wisconsin), no. 2, 1978.
American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1990.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 5 January 1998.
* * *
Stanley Cortez, while a solid contributor to Hollywood hack works, played an important part in the creation of a handful of transcendent masterpieces: The Magnificent Ambersons , The Night of the Hunter , The Three Faces of Eve , and Shock Corridor . Cortez was also able to give otherwise mediocre works a certain interest by means of experimental techniques.
Before Cortez started making films, he worked as a designer of elegant sets for several portrait photographers' studios. This work may well have instilled in him his great talent: a strong feeling for space and an ability to move his camera through that space in such a way as to embody it in film's two-dimensional format. Cortez lent an additional depth to his spatial capability by making the set into an objective correlative of the characters' psyche. He had his first job in cinema with Pathé News, which later allowed him to give his films the newsreel-like touch when necessary. During the 1920s and the early 1930s, he worked his way up the ladder that has become usual for Hollywood cameramen—camera assistant, camera operator, and cinematographer (or first cameraman). He managed to work for some of the great Hollywood cameramen, among them Karl Struss, Charles Rosher, and Arthur C. Miller. On the side, Cortez managed to do an experimental film, Scherzo , that drew on the techniques of Slavko Vorkapich; critics who have seen it have referred to this short as a "symphony of light."
Cortez's early films as cinematographer are not of the first rank, but they often had offbeat subjects that allowed him to experiment. In The Forgotten Woman he did an extreme close-up of the actress's eyes to create a sense of seeing into her mind. Then in 1942 Cortez had his big chance of working with Orson Welles on The Magnificent Ambersons . Cortez saw the set for the film before being appointed first cameraman. His spatial sense told him that film among these sets would be a tremendous challenge. Welles's cinematic genius told him that Cortez's mastery of studio space was exactly what this film—having a house as its main setting, indeed, its main character—demanded. Much of Cortez's great work was cut out later by the studio. There is the famous long take where the camera seems to explore the now empty Amberson mansion. The camera (a hand-held Mitchell) in this and another similar shot had to enter various rooms which were literally created and dismantled on cue and within seconds by the crew. The film contained documentary-like moments—for example, the opening shots which look like period photographs or engravings. These vignettes of turn-of-the-century life are carefully framed and often done in triangularly posed three-shots that give an atmosphere of bygone formality and order. The Magnificent Ambersons uses Tolandesque techniques such as depth of field with the new Plus-X film and the Waterhouse stops; Eagle Squadron carries these techniques even further.
In his later years, Cortez showed skill in filming psychological dramas. In a relatively minor work, Smash-Up , Cortez created the sense of drunkenness by doing subjective shots with flashing lights placed inside the camera, instead of using the banal distorted-lens shot. Charles Laughton gave Cortez another challenge— The Night of the Hunter . The extraordinary film demanded trial underwater shots and expressionistically lighted sets. The camera movements have a musical quality about them, and with the possible exception of the work of Charles Rosher and Karl Struss on Sunrise , Night of the Hunter contains the most beautiful camera ballet and shots of light on water ever done. As Cortez says, the camera work is musically conceived. In The Three Faces of Eve , Cortez found his actress Joanne Woodward would be to him what Garbo was to Daniels and Dietrich to Garmes. Cortez's subtle modulations of lighting match Woodward's equally subtle changes of expression, and both together create the sense of Eve, a psychologically split personality, becoming someone else. The labyrinthine hallways and rooms of the studio set representing a mental hospital for Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor is transformed by Cortez's camera into a symbol of incarceration and insanity.