The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

LEOPOLDO SALCEDO: Sixty carats of a marvelous career

By AUGUSTIN SOTTO

Octogenarian Leopoldo Salcedo now celebrates his sixtieth year in local movies with a colorful career that only a very few could rival and with laudable achievements that leave an indelible impression on much of local cinema history.

Dubbed “the great profile” by Joe Quirino (in imitation of John Barrymore’s monicker), “Pol” Salcedo was the first of the kayumanggi superstars, the antithesis of the local audiences’ mad deification of the meztizo, the anti-colonial against the smothering hold of the West. But more than just good looks, he was also radical with his characterizations, preferring to portray the politicized and the social outcast, the underdog and enraged sheep while his meztizo confreres chose the dusted tuxedos and the rank perfumes of the music halls.

Fromt the very start, his approach to acting has always been to emphasize “being”, to be honest to oneself, to pour one’s heart and soul into the role and to eschew the artificial as this could be magnified several times on the big screen. This has resulted in many fine performances, most notably in “Huling Hablin,” “Siete Dolores,” “Lupang Pangako,” “Hatinggabi,” “Noli Me Tangere” and “The Moises Padilla Story.”

Born on March 12, 1912 in Cavite, Pol Salcedo was attracted early to the stage. In his youth, he performed diligently in school plays. He also sidelined as a “ballyhoo man” and was riding horses in the noon day sun or dressing up as sultan or prince to announce the coming attractions of the local movie houses. As it was then the custom to come out with a stage show before the main feature (this was known as the “prologo”), he appeared in several of these and started a career as a singer.

His big break came when Alma Bella saw him and introduced him to Jose Nepomuceno. He was immediately cast in “Sawing Palad,” “Santong Diablo” and “Anak ng Pare,” and, because of his hefty physique, macho charms and disarming handsome features, he was an instant matinee idol.

He moved to Parlatone for “Ang Itinapon” (1936) and then to Filippine Films for “Gamugamong Naging Lawin” (1937) which made him a superstar. He made fifteen films for this studio, several of which paired him with the redoubtable Rosa del Rosario, his favorite screen partner. Among their outstanding collaborative efforts are “Walang Sugat” and “Huling Habilin.”

“Huling Habilin” remains one of Leopoldo Salcedo’s best films. A tragic romance set in the early 19th century, it tells of the dissolution wrought on Rosa del Rosario’s family brought about by the social stigma of his love for her. Her parents and brothers all perish in this mad love and Salcedo eventually commits suicide in order to end the string of bewildering consequences. The film was told in flashbacks, then a revolutionary approach in cinematic storytelling.

His marriage to Encarnacion de Leon brought him to LVN where he appeared in several Manuel Conde’s highly successful screwball comedies laced with heavy weight insights into the social order: “Maginoong Takas,” “Villa Hermosa,” “Hiyas ng Dagat,” “Caviteño,” and “Ararong Ginto.” The latter, considered one of the best films before the war , looked into the problems of the Homestead Act at the time when the Japanese were settling in Davao.

During the war, Salcedo appeared in many stage plays directed by Lamberto Avellana. He was also a guerilla in the army and, at one time, was incarcerated for his activities. Only the timely intercession of Speaker Aquino, then Kalibapi official and Ninoy’s father, saved him from impending execution.

His popularity prompted the Japanese to cast him in “The Dawn of Freedom,” their first propaganda feature designed to spread the goodwill of the invaders and expose the treachery of the Americans. In the film, Salcedo is betrayed by his American superiors and is shot by them while trying to save the lives of Filipino soldiers.

After the war, Leopoldo SAlcedo was the personification of the down-at-heels guerilla who found problems in re-entering the quotidian. In “Lupang Pangako,” he pawns a clutch of medals so that he could order lunch for his ex-guerilla friends and himself. In “Kamagong,” he is a senator’s son and former guerilla who steals from pardoned but unrepentant collaborators to help the downtrodden. His roles are a stirring commentary on the hard realities of post-war reconstruction and the ennui after the euphoria of liberation.

This led to the social slant found in many of his later films. In “Bisig ng Manggagawa,” he focused on labor problems, in “Tyug (Ang Bayang Api)” and “Batong Buhay (sa Central Luzon),” on the burgeoning peasant revolt, and in Moises Padilla Story,” on political martyrdom exacted by rotten governance.

Also, after the war, Salcedo was one of the most sought after of actors and one of the first to go to freelance. His contention was, “If you are a good actor, why would you be afraid to be a freelancer.” He was already receiving a princely sum of three hundred pesos a month from the studios which he thought he could further up but not being tied to a contract. At the height of his popularity, he was shooting as many films at the same time and a number of them were playing simultaneously in Tagalog language moviehouses.

He started to direct films in 1947 with “Sierre Madre” (LVN). He pinchhit for other directors, though he did not receive any directorial credit. However, he admits that he has no patience for directing.

In 1946, he became vice-president of Nolasco Productions. The collaboration with Luis Nolasco was fruitful and produced many fine examples of popular genres. Among them are “Siete Dolores,” about the sorrows of a mother who witnesses the dissension in her family, “Kamagong,” “Ginoong Patay-Gutom” and “Mga Busabos ng Palad," about the marginalized trying to eke out a living through boxing. The duo was about to embark on a film bio of Luis Taruc until a presidential ban was imposed on the subject.

In 1950, he set up his own film company, Leopoldo Salcedo Productions (LGS productions) and produced "Dalawang Bandila," the directorial debut of Ben Feleo. Among the other films he produced were "La Roca Trinidad," Tampalasan," "Parole" and "Highway 54." He has also given breaks to other actors — among them, Tony Santos and Rosa Rosal.

As war memories receded, he became more and more a voice of conscience and a father figure to many of the action stars. In "Ang Matapang Lamang," he tries to revive the courage and valor of a former guerrilla leader (Efren Reyes) who has lost the will to fight. In "Apat na Patak ng Dugo ni Adan," he plays the father of Joseph Estrada, Roberto Gonzales, and Vic Vargas.

He was also the favorite of many top directors. Gerardo de Leon cast him in the haunting "Hatinggabi" episode of "Apat na Kasay-sayang Onto," 'Tayug (Ang Bayang Api)," "Saigon," "Bicol Express," "Espionage Far East," "Noli Me Tangere," "El Filibusterismo," the unfinished "Juan de la Cruz," and "The Moises Padilla Story."

Lamberto Avellana had Salcedo, among others, wear a baro't saya in Tiya Juana," an adaptation of "Charley's Aunt," play Elsa Oria's debonair lover in "Alitaptap" and suffer atrocities in the hands of the Japanese in "Hantik."

He was also directed by Eddie Romero in films like "Kamay ng Diyos," "Eskandalosa," "Golpe de Gulat" and a foreign co- production, "Return to Paradise"; and by Gregorio Fernandez in "Capas" and Tuting Bantayog."

In his golden years, Leopoldo Salcedo still manages to etch a sharp characterization as in the opportunistic zarzuelista in "Ganito Kami Noon" and the father encouraging his rebel son to continue on the fight in "Sakay." Despite his age, he still projects an imposing presence, as he has steadfastly determined in these sixty years of his glorious career.