Cliffhanger Heaven!

I’m on the mailing list for the DVD seller, OLDIES.COM who never give up trying to encourage me  to buy.

Each  email message always manage to say the same thing  – just a little differently.






Oldies.Com was founded in 1980. Its sister company ( both are based outside Philadelphia) is Alpha Video.

Alpha Video is claiming copyright on public domain films which they have remastered. Not sure how that works legally.

One of the latest  messages from Oldies is about serials and it made me think about all these vintage serials which were so popular.

The serials, mainly from Republic and Columbia, represent a time and era which can never be replicated.

For a review of one of those serials, “Daredevils of the Red Circle”, check  out Laura’s blog at

The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez

I wish some of my favorite stars  had a fan like Dan Van Neste who has spent 4 years researching the life and career of RICARDO CORTEZ.

This biography has some of the most thorough research I have  ever seen. The author has read countless books and articles about Cortez and his films. In a book of nearly 600 pages, there are 50 pages of bibliography and notes.

The book is in two parts , firstly biography and secondly, reviews of every film Cortez made.

So, who is Ricardo Cortez ( 1900 – 1977).

Well, he was the first Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON and in the silent era he had billing over Garbo in TORRENT (1926).

He made over 100 films and directed 7 .  Active in Hollywood from  the early 1920s, he was still performing  in 1950 .

Although born Jacob Krantz in New York, Ricardo entered movies when Valentino was the big Latin star. Paramount was looking for a Valentino type and Krantz got a new name and film contract in 1923.




The Paramount publicity machine said that he was from Castile in Spain.

By  1928, Cortez , having left Paramount , was making ‘B’ movies for a studio called Tiffany Productions.

He became typecast as a movie bad guy, gangster, gambler. Even the lead in Warner’s THE MALTESE FALCON didn’t help. Warner Brothers also cast him as Perry Mason in  THE CASE OF THE BLACK CAT (1935). The role had been vacated by Warren William who had done 4 Perry Mason films.


BROADWAY BAD, with Joan Blondell.


In the early 1930s, Cortez was splitting his time between RKO, MGM, Warners  and Universal, but by the early 40s, he  was working at Monogram.


Ricardo Cortez, Loretta Young, Franchot Tone.MIDNIGHT MARY


An unexpected turn in his career was when Twentieth Century Fox contracted Cortez to direct 7 films, one of which was FREE, BLONDE AND 21, with Lynn  Bari and Mary Beth Hughes.

I asked the author about this period:

“I think  Ricardo  became interested in directing by the latter  1920s. He actually made his directorial debut in 1931 when Tay Garnett allowed him to direct several scenes of the crime drama, BAD COMPANY.”


Ricardo Cortez, Mary Astor


Ricardo’s brother, Stanley adopted his surname and Dan Van Neste told me,

“Ricardo helped Stanley enter the industry by arranging apprenticeships with many of the great cinematographers . He and Stanley were very close throughout their lives. Stanley was an assistant  cameraman on several of Ric’s pictures.”

(Stanley Cortez was Director of Photography on THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS ,SINCE YOU WENT AWAY and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.)


Ricardo Cortez, Bebe Daniels. THE MALTESE FALCON


I asked Dan Van  Neste what Cortez films he liked best, and how many of his silent films survived:

“My favorite Cortez films are ones in which he played flawed heroes or villains with redeeming qualities. I thought  his ability to portray the duality of these characters was one of his greatest strengths as an actor.

Among my favorite Cortez characterisations are the immoral private detective, Sam Spade  in The Maltese Falcon (1931); the unscrupulous gossip columnist  who learns important life lessons the hard way in Is My Face Red?(1932);the crooked gambler who befriends a down-on-her-luck parolee in The House on 56th Street (1933); the ruthless gangster who has a soft spot for his beautiful young moll in Midnight Mary (1933);  the morally conflicted attorney who decides to represent his wife’s lover in Hat,Coat and Glove (1934);  and the crooked gambler whose decision to go straight  has tragic consequences in Her Husband Lies (1937).

Sadly, of the 37 silent and partially silent films Ricardo made, only 17 have survived, and only 14 have survived with their original footage intact. Such a tragedy!”


Ricardo Cortez, Dolores Del Rio, Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell. WONDER BAR.


I have only seen a few of Ricardo Cortez’s films and after reading this book, I shall be looking out for them in the future.

Dan Van Nest is also the author of THE WHISTLER, STEPPING INTO THE SHADOWS. For more information, visit




With Kay Francis






The Jimmy Stewart Museum is situated in James Stewart’s home town of Indiana, Pennsylvania. It’s on the third floor of the Indiana Public Library on Philadelphia Street.

Memorabilia from Jimmy’s childhood, military career and his films are on display, including a Winchester rifle and a propeller blade signed by the cast and crew of The Flight of the Phoenix.

The museum opened in 1995, with  his daughters, Kelly and Judy in attendance.

There is a 1930s style vintage movie theatre in the museum, with a sound and projection system donated by Universal Studios.

Near to the museum is Jimmy’s birthplace, childhood home and his family’s former hardware store. And a bronze statue of Jimmy.

In 1996 the Harvey Award was inaugurated by the James M. Stewart Museum Foundation, and June Allyson was the first recipient of the award. The award is presented on Jimmy’s birthday in May. Previous recipients have included Janet Leigh, Shirley Jones and  Ernest Borgnine.

The museum has an online store at

Indiana is a small town in rural Pennsylvania, but visitors come from far and wide to see where James Stewart grew up and to visit the museum on the third floor.

James and Gloria Stewart





Love this on-the-set shot from THE KILLERS, with director Robert Siodmak and producer Mark Hellinger conversing at the back, while that dynamic duo, Charles McGraw and William Conrad  look as if they are still in character and thinking, “Wish these two boneheads  would stop jawing and we could get on with the scene!”

Charles McGraw on Television

Being a fan of CHARLES MCGRAW, I was curious to see something of his two forays into television in the  mid 1950s.

Warner Brothers got into television production in 1955, starting with an anthology series called “Warner Brothers Presents”.

The first of 20 series which Warner Brothers Televsion produced between 1955 and 1963 included THE ADVENTURES OF THE FALCON, KINGS ROW and CHEYENNE.

Jack  Warner’s son-in-law, William T. Orr was the executive producer of all the shows.

Of the first three,only “Cheyenne” succeeded.

“Kings Row” had only 7 episodes made, with Jack  Kelly in the Robert Cummings role and Robert Horton in the part played in the original film by Ronald Reagan.

(I was interested to read that actor Paul Stewart directed three episodes of Kings Row.)

Charles McGraw was cast in “The Adventures of the Falcon” which managed 39 episodes before disappearing from the schedules.

Around 25 of the half hour episodes are available on You Tube, which is where I viewed a few.

The character of The Falcon has a long history dating back to 1936 , including books , a ten year radio series and various films starring George Sanders and his  brother,Tom Conway.

From what I’ve been able to find out, an author called Drexel Drake created  a crime fighter called The Falcon in 1936, with three books. Then in 1940, writer Michael Arlen wrote another story about the Falcon.

Over the years, the Falcon had several names – Gay Stanhope Falcon, Gay Laurence, Tom Laurence . Charles McGraw introduced himself as ,”I’m  Mike Waring, alias The Falcon.”

What’s funny is that no explanation is ever given for the Falcon alias, other than that first name.

Described as radio’s most debonair detective. I doubt anybody would describe Charles McGraw as debonair! (George Sanders fitted the bill on the big screen.) But the character written for Television had lost all his charm and wit and become McGraw-serious .

Topically, set in the 50s Cold War era,McGraw is an espionage agent who travels the   World ( and various parts of America) as a trouble shooter for Army Intelligence. ( On the radio and in the Falcon films, the character had been a freelance detective, an insurance investigator and a government operative!)

Of course everything was filmed in Hollywood.

The episodes are heavily action driven, with little chance for more than broad characterisation. There are no sidekicks or any friends for the audience to build up a rapport with. So McGraw has little to do but speak the lines and wind up the story each week.

With better writing, I’m sure McGraw could have put  his stamp on the character.

The show was like a who’s who of Hollywood supporting characters – Douglas Fowley, Paul Fix,Percy Helton, Evelyn Ankers,June Vincent, Ted De Corsia and so many more.

When the show didn’t survive amongst all the shows being made at the time, Warner Brothers didn’t give up on McGraw.

They dusted off their most famous film, CASABLANCA, and cast McGraw in the lead. Perhaps fearing Bogart comparisons, the lead character was called Rick Jason, not Blaine. And his club became ‘Club American’, not ‘Rick’s Cafe Americain.’


Charles McGraw,Anita  Ekberg. CASABLANCA.

With a nod to the original classic,Dan Seymour was cast as Senor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet in the film), and  Marcel Dalio became Capt. Renault- having played the croupier in the film.)

Clarence Muse, who had auditioned for the part of ‘Sam’ in 1942, finally got to play the pianist in the TV series.


Anita Ekberg, Clarence Muse


The series alternated with “Kings Row ” and “Cheyenne ” as part of Warner Brothers Presents .

The show only lasted 10 episodes , and I think only the first episode  can be seen as an extra on one of the film’s DVD releases.

I haven’t seen it myself , but reviews are not great.

With an hour long format, Warners promoted their cinema releases in the last 10 minutes.

As far as I know, some  of the original sets and props were used.


David Soul

Warner Brothers tried again with  Casablanca in the 1970s, with even less success. David Soul played the Bogart character.


Humphrey Bogart

There’s only one Rick Blaine.