A master of chiaroscuro cinematography, Stanley Cortez once described himself as "always chosen to shoot weird things. " Born Stanislaus Krantz in NYC, he adopted his stage name from his older brother, actor-director Ricardo Cortez (1899-1977). While still an undergraduate, Cortez began working as an assistant cameraman on silent films. At the advent of talking pictures, he worked as a photographer's assistant to Edward Steichen and Pirie MacDonald and briefly pursued a career as a portrait photographer in his own right. He wrote, directed and shot the short "Scherzo" (1932) before landing as a contract cinematographer at Universal in the late 1930s. Many of the early features he shot were undistinguished (an exception was 1934's minor horror classic "The Black Cat"), but Cortez developed a reputation for economy and efficiency. He was loaned to RKO to shoot Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942). Sparing no expense, he and Welles created a particular look for the film drawn from the low-key lighting utilized by early photographic pioneers. Cortez's fluid camerawork with its deep-focus and unique framing kept the film visually interesting and he earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. His second Academy Award nomination was for his work alongside Lee Garmes on the epic "Since You Went Away" (1944).
Cortez utilized color for the first time on the superb thriller "The Man on the Eiffel Tower" (1949) which captured the beauty of its Paris setting as well as enhanced the story's inherent mysteries. That film's leading man, Charles Laughton, was impressed enough to hire the cinematographer for "The Night of the Hunter" (1955). Laughton as director created a stylized look for the film that borrowed from German expressionism to American silents. Although the film was a box-office flop in its day, it has since achieved a richly deserved reputation as a classic, with Cortez's photography a major factor in setting the thriller's mood. He also shot "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957) and his camerawork was instrumental in establishing each of the heroine's personalities. For the remainder of his career, however, the director of photography was often employed on low-budget productions that were of varying quality, although he was allowed room for visual experimentation.