Wednesday, April 16, 2014


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Release Date:  1966
Production:  Sampaguita Pictures
Direction:  Luciano B. Carlos
Stars:  Susan Roces, Eddie Gutierrez, Shirley Moreno
Nori Dalisay, Etang Discher, Tony Dauden
Matimtiman Cruz, Cora Maceda
(Movie ad courtesy of Simon Santos, Video 48)

by Ophelia San Juan

Film Review:  Re-Photographing A Lovely Actress
(The Weekly Nation Magazine, 1966)

PORTRAIT OF MY LOVE, in exciting black and white and astounding part Eastmancolor, should bring to mind Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Razon with one brush splash.

Da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting is enigmatically brought into the title credits of Portraif Of My Love after the main players have, in varying poses of smiling prettiness, appeared within elaborately curlicued frames very reminiscent of Bob's Studio's favorite society photographs.  After the initial jolt of seeing a work of art, however, audiences of this Sampaguita 29th anniversary offering and Christmas picture can settle down to enjoy a thoroughly funny and sometimes hilariously irreverent story made up of sight gags and comic situations more or less spawned by love -- young, old, matriarchal, filial, foolish, masochistic, sadistic, or just plain fancy.

The most rib-cracking episodes occur in the first part of the picture, when female office executive Lita Soriano (Susan Roces) relates to factotum Cleo (Matimtiman Cruz) three principal reasons why she thinks men are saps and women ought to stay unmarried:  the first is a courteous, unctuous gentleman who indulges in Continental hand-kissing and Filipino respectfulness, and who has impressed her with his unashamed ardent wooing, only to hide behind a curtain at the first loud thunderclaps and clamber up the living room table at the sight of a fat, cuddly, white house mouse; the second is Samson, who lives up to his name with a bodybuilder's build at which Lita dutifully gawks and impressedly swoons when he exhibits at the Soriano's yard -- only, the musclebound cad combs his hair coquettishly and preens before a mirror the way all male would-be Delilahs do; the third frustrating heartthrob of Miss Soriano is a fast-working Lothario who dashingly snatches her "yes," then scares her off and away up the ceiling beam with his bristly kiss.  With such past sad experience, Lita is less than enthusiastic about meeting new young men, much less future sweethearts and possible husband.

This attitude is the exact opposite of that held toward men by Cleo, whose unabated appetite for lovemaking would have been called dirty in a film more aware of character portrayal and logic than Portrait Of My Love is, but whose zestful depiction of an uninhibited contretemp to Lita Soriano's standoffish maiden results in broad, instincts-conscious comedy that, at worst, can be termed bawdy vaudeville.  She introduces Ricky (Eddie Gutierrez) to Lita, and from this blind-date outing evolves the series of events in the playboy-meets-playless-girl situation comedy that make up a collection of sight gags rendered precious by the comic talent of Matimtiman Cruz, Etang Discher, Tony Dauden, German Moreno, Eddie Gutierrez, and -- most noticeably -- Susan Roces.

Lita takes offense at Ricky's amorous attempts, reports him to the police, and has him jailed overnight.  The sweet-faced, curly-topped playboy, long pampered by his rich grandmother, cries to her like a baby for help.  The grandmother, Dona Margarita (Etang Discher), looks like a vampire who makes Christmas Eve sweet-meats of red-blooded playboys, but she is actually putty in her spoiled grandson's slick hands, and she bails him out of prison.  More than that, she proceeds to confront the unknown wench who has had the gall to accuse him of forcing his attentions on her.

"My grandson does not go after women," she declares haughtily to the poker-faced desk sergeant, "women tear after him."

Lita deals with her as efficaciously as she had her grandson's libidinous attempts -- with spirit, cunning, and considerable comic spectacle.  That is, up until she suddenly takes a misdirected turn for the dramatic and lectures the old woman on female virtue and valuability.  The scene is so out of place in the gay, lively and correctly exaggerated comedy that it calls attention to the film's fanciful excesses, and almost brings it to the level of maudlin melodrama that movies can so often be capable of.

However, it is Susan Roces again as Lita who saves the situation.  Faced by the prospect of an embarrasing and uncertain lawsuit if she persists in persecuting Ricky, she decides to take retribution by slapping him several times, landing almost manful blows on his handsome face.  When he kisses her hotly and lengthily, she breaks a few of his bones with a judo backhand throw.

Invalided, Ricky is further maimed by formal engagement to Marily (Shirley Moreno), a betrothal arranged by his grandmother and calculated to conform to the family's social standing.  Masochistic Marily endures all of a playboy's predictable flaws -- forgetfulness, neglect, unfaithfulness, scarcity, and ill temper.  She loves him dearly, apparently, and continues to be around -- a pretty sight anytime in spite of his cool disregard.

Appearing in most of her scenes with pert Nori Dalisay, Shirley Moreno is a beautiful young star typical of Sampaguita's promising personalities.  Her dimpled wholesomeness, pleasingly proportioned statuesqueness, and fashion consciousness mark her as inevitably as a hen peacock's presence among the brood of ordinary females, and she should prove an actress with many interesting expressial nuances when given the major role.

Marily's involvement becomes the major problem of Lita as far as Ricky is concerned, for the former resorts to a mad psychiatrist's help to secure the affections of Dona Margarita's darling.  The psychiatrist (German Moreno), who seems to have more delusions than many of his patients, advises her to change her personality so as to intrigue her lagging lover.  A wise move, perhaps, for a masquerading secret agent, but for Marily it only gets a fit of laughter from Ricky.  Ricky's hysterical merriment reaches the peak where Dona Margarita fears for his sanity, and she, too, brings him to a psychiatrist.

The doctor (German Moreno, as could be expected in this chain of coincidences), hypnotizes Ricky with his pencil that causes crosseyedness, gets to the root of the young man's troubles (Lita Soriano), and counsels him to devote his life in wooing her.  Once his obsession is rewarded, Dr. Spraecken says, he can forget her and be forever cured.

Ricky's pestering understandably drives Lita to desperation, until Cleo, whose very life is endangered by Lita's somnambulistic ragings, brings her to the doctor's den.  The diagnosing session is a comic highlight of the film, engendered by Matimtiman's matchless clowning and Susan's eye-filling presence.  From the psychiatrist's couch, Lita arises with the magic prescription:  accept Ricky's visits, show him graciousness, and be rid of a troublesome burden.  The head-shrinker's cheap price of advice:  P100 only.

Audiences pay only P1.20 or P2.60, at most, each for all of these zany goings-on -- and they get an additional dosage of romantic fill-ins and tearjerking trickery, which come later on in the film.

Portrait Of My Love could have ended happily with the realization of the romance between Lita and Ricky; adding the broad brush strokes of complications caused by Marily and later resolved by her, too, makes for a bigger canvas but not necessarily a masterpiece such as the Mona Lisa.  The complicated portion of the picture, however, provides Shirley Moreno -- a full-fledged star now with the proclamation of the Stars of '66 in An Evening To Remember, which goes with Portrait -- with a few chances to show histrionic ability.  She is sophisticated as a woman using guile to dissuade another female from continuing to consort with the man of her choice, and vulnerably tender as the maiden who has lost in this triangle of types.

The color portion of the film, which presents musical numbers straight from Hollywoodian renditions of Broadway's South Pacific, The Student Prince, My Fair Lady, The King And I, and The Sound of Music, comes astonishingly out of the blue.  Portrait Of My Love gives no hint whatsoever in the course of its story about these reproductions -- and it is Director Luciano B. Carlos's astounding photographic imagination alone which could have made these possible.

This is not to say that the lavish miniature musical numbers are not colorful indeed.  They are a festive ending for the gala Christmas film presentation from Sampaguita, and are the best proofs that an actress as lovely as Susan Roces deserves to be re-photographed again and again -- in regal, bright costumes always, if possible.

Nonetheless, the best merits of Susan are in plentiful evidence as the glittering comic gifts of a versatile actress in any clothing.  She is Mila del Sol and Carmen Rosales all over again, with perhaps the hints of the modest Norma Blancaflor and the demure Rosario Moreno, in addition to being the epitome of the modern-day dream of an incorruptible lass who can at the same time be chic, hep and a-go-go.  In Portrait Of My Love, the assembly line's latest from the story factory of Jose Leonardo & Associates, she gets complete room to display these wondrous gifts in.  In fact, she gets more chances at acting in the romantic musical comedy than in many five of her dramatic pictures.

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