Oscar Actors: Cortese, Valentina (Day for Night) Dies at 96

Valentina Cortese (also Cortesa), prolific Italian actress who was Oscar nominate for her work in the French film, Francois Truffaut’s 1973 classic Day for Night, died at the age of 96 on July 10, 2019.
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In Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” considered to be one of the best movies about the chaotic process of filmmaking, Cortese played an alcoholic diva past her prime, a romantic actress who is unable to memorize her lines.

For a two-part, Carlo Ponti-produced 1948 film adaptation of “Les Miserables,” Cortese caused a sensation by playing both female leads, Fantine and Cosette.

Cortese attracted the notice of Hollywood for her work in the British-made 1949 melodrama “The Glass Mountain,” about an RAF pilot and aspiring composer (Michael Denison) who crashes in Italy during World War II and is rescued by a local girl played by Cortese; the composer translates his love for the girl into an opera once he’s back home in England. The New York Times said, “As the love-torn Italian village girl, Valentina Cortesa gives a sensitive, poised and wholly convincing portrayal.”

In Hollywood she appeared in a supporting role in the historical melodrama “Black Magic,” starring Orson Welles.

She then starred opposite Richard Conte in Jules Dassin’s brilliant film noir “Thieves’ Highway.” and appeared with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart in the adventure film “Malaya.”

She starred opposite Richard Basehart in Richard Wise’s excellent 1951 film noir “The House on Telegraph Hill.”  Cortese, who was unaccountably credited as Valentina Cortesa in her Hollywood efforts, married Basehart in 1951; they divorced in 1960, and he died in 1984.

Valentina Cortese (1 January 1923 – 10 July 2019) was an Italian actress. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973).

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Born in Milan to a family from Stresa (Piedmont), Cortese married Richard Basehart, her co-star in The House on Telegraph Hill, in 1951, and had one son with him, the actor Jackie Basehart; they divorced in 1960. (Jackie Basehart died in Milan in 2015, predeceasing Cortesa).

Cortese made her screen debut in Italian films in 1940, leading to her first internationally acclaimed roles in Riccardo Freda’s 1948 Italian film Les Misérables with Gino Cervi and Marcello Mastroianni, in which she played both Fantine and Cosette, and the 1949 British film The Glass Mountain (1949).

She signed a contract with 20th Century Fox in 1948. She starred in Malaya (1949), a WWII film about smuggling and guerrilla warfare against the Japanese with Spencer Tracy and James Stewart.

Other remarkable performances include Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway (1949) with Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb, The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) directed by Robert Wise, co-starring Richard Basehart and William Lundigan, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa (1954), with Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien.

In Europe she starred in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Le Amiche (1955), Gérard Brach’s The Boat on the Grass (1971), Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), and in Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and the film Sparrow (1993).

Her final American film role was in When Time Ran Out (1980).

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