American Playhouse (1981– )
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The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez 

The retelling of an incident in Gonzales, Texas in 1901 revolving around a stolen horse, mistaken identity and a killing. An unusual story of the all too usual exploitation of the powerless in Texas History.




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Gregorio Cortez
Sheriff Frank Fly
Reporter Blakely
Mike Trimmell
Sheriff Morris
Romaldo Cortez
Sheriff Glover
Jack Kehoe ...
Prosecutor Pferson
Carlota Muñoz
Buddy Vigil ...
Zach Porter ...
Fly's Posse


The entire cause of the problem evolves from the use of a deputy to translate. His command of Spanish is inadequate and he mistranslates what a witness tells the sheriff as to whether the real perpetrator of the crime is riding a mare (yegua) or a male horse (caballo). This error results in destroying a family and the death of an innocent man. Written by Dave Anderson

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The true story of one man who made a difference.


PG | See all certifications »


Official Sites:




Release Date:

29 June 1982 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,305,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$15,477 (USA) (21 August 1983)


$804,963 (USA)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


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Did You Know?


The author of the book, Américo Paredes, hated this movie. According to Paredes, Gregorio Cortez did not shed one tear while he was in jail and yet, Cortez cries in the movie. Anytime someone would ask him his thoughts about the movie, he would be so angry about it that he would refuse to discuss the movie and instead, would have his wife tell them why he disliked it. See more »


In the movie Cortez appears to be riding to the border through the Texas Hill Country, traversing high hills covered in cedar with low mountains in the background, and arrives near the Rio Grande in a mountainous area - obviously in West Texas. In reality, Cortez rode south from Karnes County and was captured near El Sauz in Starr County, mostly flat area with very low hills, if any, then known as "the wild horse desert" filled with prickly pear cactus and mesquite - not at all like the countryside depicted in the movie. See more »


Boone Choate: I'm about sick of this senseless killin'. What are we gonna do about it?
See more »


Featured in Songs of the Homeland (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

Robert M. Young's The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez
14 June 2002 | by (North Dakota) – See all my reviews

Taking place in 1901 Gonzalez, Texas, Gregorio Cortez is a

Mexican on the run after being involved in not one but three

different murders of some Texas law enforcement personnel.

While cut and dried from the Texans' point of view, Cortez's full

story of what happened remains to be heard.

Edward James Olmos does a great job as Cortez. He does not

speak English, and the film makers wisely do not subtitle his

Mexican conversations, adding to the confusion of Cortez's crimes.

He is confronted by a racist deputy and a sheriff, who accuse him

of stealing a horse. Cortez's brother is shot and the sheriff is killed

in a bizarre, confused shootout that sends Cortez to a friendly

ranch worker's home. There, a posse attacks the house Cortez is

in, and two more men are shot and killed. Cortez's brother dies as


Bruce McGill plays a San Antonio reporter who rides with the

posse, and begins to get Cortez's story, as seen by the Texas

Rangers. While the flashbacks to the killings are not along the

lines of "Rashomon," they serve to illustrate the Texans' side well.

As Cortez is caught and put on trial, he is represented by Barry

Corbin, who finds out what really happened and tries to get his

client off.

The film makers here do something very unexpected for this type

of film- they show us that Cortez is neither a martyr or a saint.

Cortez's side of the initial murder is not much different from the

deputy's. The shooting started over a misunderstood translation

between the deputy and Cortez and escalated.

Cortez's family is locked up in order to flush him out, and civil

liberties are broken all over the place. Eventually, thanks to a end

credits crawl, we find out Cortez was in and out of the courtroom

many times as a result of these crimes.

The film opens with Cortez running, and a bunch of white guys

chasing him, and bodies being returned to families, and I had no

idea what was going on for the first ten minutes of the film.

Eventually, things begin to click, and Young's sure direction keeps

it going. The cast is full of character actors whose names you do

not immediately recognize but whose faces you have watched for

years. Even Ned Beatty has a rather unnecessary cameo near the


If you are expecting another politically correct allegory about the

plight of the Mexican in turn of the century Texas, you need to look

elsewhere. This revisionist western shows us both sides of

murder, and how both sides are at fault. I highly recommend it.

This is rated (PG) for gun violence, some gore, profanity, and

sexual references.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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