American Playhouse (1981– )
4 user 4 critic

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 »


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Release Date:

29 June 1982 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office


$1,305,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$15,477, 21 August 1983, Limited Release

Gross USA:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


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Did You Know?


The film was such important a project to Edward James Olmos that he actually ran it in an L.A. theater free of charge to encourage attendance. 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 »


Abernathy: Had he stayed, a posse would have come... not thirsting for justice, but thirsting for his blood.
See more »


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

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User Reviews

Important "border theory" film.
13 July 2003 | by See all my reviews

Based on a true story, this is an important film that teaches us about racism, assumptions, and what can happen when someone's words are not correctly translated from one language to another. The filmmaker deliberately chose not to use subtitles, so if you don't speak Spanish you may feel a little frustrated because the Americans of Mexican descent speak only Spanish in the film. (90% of the dialogue is in English.) However, stick with the film to the end and you will understand why this director did not use subtitles. The story takes place on the border between Mexico and Texas and exposes the racist and violent history of the Texas Rangers. The film also demonstrates how media manipulation can create hysteria. A newspaper reporter accompanies the Texas Rangers on their hunt for fugitive Gregorio Cortez. The reporter interviews witnesses who fabricate a "gang" and "gang leader" when in fact there were none in this case. Edward James Olmos is mesmerizing in his first film role as Cortez. There is an "Old West" authenticity in this production that reminds us that most Hollywood Westerns are based only in a "Manifest Destiny" fantasy, not fact.

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