Wednesday, March 25, 2015


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by Ophelia San Juan

(The Weekly Nation, February 12, 1966)

 HANGGANG SA Kurtinang Bakal, the third and -- it is to be hoped -- last of the See the World with Lea super-productions, makes much use of the steel fists of Romeo Vasquez and the iron bodies of Al Quinn, Fred Galang, et. al, who have to take the punishment of karate and fistblow fights prolonged and repeated many times for the sake of padding an incident-starved story, but it is the diamond-hard sense for profit and popularity of Mrs. Emilia S. Blas which shines through brightest as producer and perpetrator of this flimsy, prevaricating photoplay.

     She has mined enough boxoffice gold in the two previous productions of the series -- Aloha and Fiesta South America - to perhaps justify the lead moulding the romance and the spy-action of this one; and she should be given credit not only for turning out movies of mass appeal and comparative wholesomeness that make money at the boxoffice but also, and more importantly, for being the only film financier in the country who always wants to try something new, colorful, and big.  Even if it happens to be only a tinplate ornament as Kurtinang Bakal.

     Only trouble is, in smelting the metal, she extracts and exposes for public airing a number of unsophisticated, quite vulnerable elements.

     The Filipino performers, made to follow through a clueless spy story that is stated to concern North Vietnam, look like tourists settling for the less known places of Europe after having gotten lost in the more urban metropolises, and their helplessness is not remedied at all by the absence of all guideposts to good traveling -- or acting.  There are only nameless hotels, unidentified cafes, indistinguishable parks, and unlettered alleys as well as minimal plotting and characterization in Hanggang Sa Kurtinang Bakal.  Seeing it, one would not think there were notable landmarks in Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, Seville, Barcelona, Lourdes, Nice, Geneva, Berne, Zurich, Venice, Vienna, Rome and Berlin -- all storied cities which it purports to cover -- or that an espionage story had distinctive attributes like realistic menace, taut episoding, clear cause-and-effect situations, accomplished agents, and maintained tension.

     Amalia Fuentes and Romeo Vasquez, it is true, do their best by non-existent roles, Amalia prettily and Romeo bravely, but even young actors with considerable screen presence can find difficulty looking vital and interested on a misguided tour.  She gets her chance to wear fur for a good excuse (the autumn weather abroad), as well as those chic suits that accentuate her svelte beauty, while he glides with smoothness and ease in his footloose and fancy-free romantic portrayal of a habitual self.  Nevertheless, the aura of alienation and awed unfamiliarity hangs heavy on their aimless odyssey, and travel is never less broadening than for the stars -- and the audience -- of Kurtinang Bakal.

     The innocents abroad include three modern mercenaries (Tony Cayado, Al Quinn, and Fred Galang) on hire out to the communists led by a Commander X in Germany.  To get there without being followed, they traipse along a circuitous route from Copenhagen that goes out on a parabola to Spain, Italy, presumably France, and back to Berlin.  Their attempt at anonymity fails, however, partly because of their permanent dark sunglasses and dark Continental-type suits which unmistakably mark them in Europe, and partly because the three, together with Amalia and Romeo, always choose the same hotel and the same tourist spot in all the big cities they go to.  Off-scene, cameraman Tommy Marcelino and producer Blas were in those same places, too, and the audience can perhaps share in the general junket jubilation were if not for the fact that Romeo and Amalia are supposed to be United Nations agents tracking down their three spy costars.  The swiftness and the ease with which the UN love team is unfailingly joined with their quarry everywhere makes a viewer suspect that the opposing parties intentionally stick close together for fear of getting lost in those bustling, teeming cities with their myriad byways and secret, unknown places.

     Of the lot, costar, codirector and coscriptwriter (with Ben Feleo) Tony Cayado tries hardest to look stern and succeeds most in showing his enjoyment.  While Al Quinn and Fred Galang are content to sport their distinctive dark glasses indoors as well as outdoors or their cute hats while in seductive tete-a-tete at a cocktail lounge, Tony Cayado has the job of contacting Commander X and delivering to the commie leader the standard secret agent's attache case of vital documents.  Aside from handing tough lines in English to a frail boy in a Spanish mansion of horror, he does death's coup de grace as well, establishing what may be the longest dying record in the movies.

     His two cohorts are destined fatalities, too, in the end after all their fighting wind has been used up and the travelogue is set to wind up.  Al Quinn, like Cayado, indulges a spectacular death:  this time, he removes his dark sunglasses before his usual fight with Vasquez, even his hat, scarf, and gloves come off one after another in timed succession with a flourish not unlike a striptease dancer's tassels and bows, and then he accidentally falls backward on his own knife!

     A wide-staring death similar to Al Quinn's is received by the mysterious Commander X, who turns out to be no other than the charming and very likable Gloria Sevilla, but this is not so amusing like the demise of the two male communist hirelings.  Gloria and Amalia enact the only scene of Hanggang Sa Kurtinang Bakal in which some emoting is done when they first meet and confront each other in Berlin, and Miss Sevilla's gunfight slaying seems too routinary of every uninspired spy yarn.

     Likewise not a laughing matter is the treason against tourism that Mrs. Blas's latest foreign-made sparkler commits.  Apparently lacking film footage on the important cities Kurtinang Bakal is supposed to depict, the picture interchanges the Philippines's Intramuros grounds and Quezon City road stretches for chase sequences purveyed to have been shot abroad.  This is injustice to foreign countries, which are thus shown with tropical trees and left-hand drive cars, as well as dishonesty with our own.  And if pulling the wool over the eyes of audiences is not permissible in straight documentaries and travelogues, it is hardly so in feature-length narrative films -- for fiction's liberty does not extend to distorting real national heritage of which one's land is essentially part of.

     Toward movie's end, when the action centers in West Berlin, scenes from Spain startlingly appear intercut with the German ones so that Tony Cayado and Gloria Sevilla come down the steps of a Berlin tunnel to emerge on a rail track designated for Sevilla, Amalia Fuentes rushes across an autobahn and continues running past advertisements of abanicos, Berlin's theatres start announcing the showing of Los Novios de Mis Hijas, and Germany's streets get cluttered with Iberia liners.  If a final insult to an average audience's intelligence is needed to stop him from gawking at the quaint, unimportant and out-of-the-way foreign places a haphazard travelogue such as Hanggang Sa Kurtinang Bakal offers, it is this -- a brazen attempt to destroy his geography after having disrupted his common sense with an implausible fictionization.

     At the Brandenburg gate, Romeo joins Amalia in an affectionate reunion and together they turn away from the wall to East Berlin, taking the camera and the Lea production group away with them.  It is just as well: if they had gone on behind the Iron Curtain, the NKVD would probably never let them go, fearing the sabotage this filming group might do to communist landscapes.

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