Filed under: philippine cinema
The World War II film Intramuros aka Walls of Hell (1964), boasts a shared director credit by two Filipino National Artists, Gerardo De Leon and Eddie Romero, but of greater interest to me was another aspect of it: the early, iconic performance in it by Philippine action star Fernando Poe Jr (aka FPJ).
Poe, appearing to deliver his own lines (I’ve not verified this), speaks English with a thick – but by no means awkward – accent, and his character exudes an aura of invincibility, even when in a vulnerable position (as in the first shots above, when surrounded as he exits a manhole). Watching him in Walls of Hell reminded me of Robert Duvall’s Captain Kilgore in Apocalypse Now: while Poe’s character is a realist and Duvall’s an eccentric, they share a similar level of superhuman confidence, one almost attaining physical property; intimating that the circumstances in which they existed (– war) served them no threat.
A.H. Weiler, a critic at the NY TIMES reviewing the film in 1965, described Poe as “laconic, serious and muscular”, and his character as “the handsome Filipino who insists that the captives be freed before the walls are breached.” The name of Poe’s character: Sgt. Leonardo Maglaya.
My father’s name is Leonardo, and he was a huge fan of FPJ. If it wasn’t for this fact I might not have been so enraptured by Poe’s performance in the film, nor been as interested in him and his other important performances (including this one, as a schoolteacher turned rebel, in Celso Ad Castillo’s Asedillo). What kind of Poe fan was my father? Not crazy enough to have voted for the action star when he ran for President, but serious enough to have attempted, despite recovering from surgery and with Doctor’s orders to avoid public spaces, to pay his respects to the fallen actor at his wake (one among throngs in the thousands, he didn’t get anywhere near the coffin where Poe’s body lied). He enjoyed target shooting, my father, was a champion when he was young, and never failed to light up with a smile, laughing as he explained Poe’s style of gun-slinging in films, knowing as he did how improbable it was in real life.
Like Poe’s Leonardo, my father often exuded, at least to me and my siblings, a similar sheen of invincibility: a stature and confidence that made you believe he could survive anything. Though thinking about it now, his was perhaps an emotional strength much more than a physical one, which lead us to take for granted, even when he was hospitalized regularly and enduring a siege of problems and responsibilities, that these too would be but passing threats…
He passed away three years to this day. However inadequate a remembrance, this post is dedicated to his memory.
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