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

MARY WALTER AND THE EARLY CINEMA

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By AGUSTIN SOTTO

It was in 1926 that Philippine cinema was revived after a long hiatus since Jose Nepomuceno's last production Hoy o Nunca Besame in 1920. For five years there were no Filipino-produced films. It took Vicente Salumbides, newly arrived from the United States, to put feature filmmaking back on its feet. With the help of Nepomuceno, he directed Miracles of Love which has been described as employing cinematic techniques like closeups and dynamic editing in contrast to the rather static nature of Nepomuceno's early productions. Despite its being shown in a second-run movie theater, Miracles of Love was a miracle of a picture. It was a big box-office hit that opened the eyes of the public — and prospective producers — to the magic and power of the Filipino film. It provided the impetus towards the development of the local film industry.

One of the achievements of Salumbides and Nepomuceno in this period was to create a firmament of stars that the public started relating to. This was the beginning of the star system. Although the output from 1926-28 was a meager three films per year, by 1929, the industry was averaging at least eight productions. By 1932, just before the advent of the talkies, Philippine silent cinema hit a high of twenty four films. It was during this time, that Mary Walter made her mark. She became one of its top stars belonging to that generation of stars that included Naty Fernandez, Gregorio Fernandez, Maggie Galloway, Dimples Cooper, Sofia Lota, Eva Lynn, Carlos Padilla, Eduardo de Castro, Nena Linda, and Giorgina Hollis.

Mary Walter was discovered when she was invited by a friend to watch the shooting of a Naty Fernandez film, Sampaguita, which was near her house in General Solano. Jose "Peping" Nepomuceno spotted her from among the milling crowd and asked her if she would like to appear in the "cariñosa" dance sequence. She hesitated as she had no dress for the part. But Peping offered to provide her with the costume. Satisfied with her appearance, Peping went to her parents and asked if she would be given permission to become an actress.

Mary Walter made her debut in Jose Nepomuceno's Ang Lumang Simbahan in 1928. She appeared as the daughter who is being forced by parents Sofia Lota and Gre-gorio Fernandez into marrying a man she does not love. She elopes with her boyfriend, Aniceto Robledo. They are married in an old church where they discover a treasure. Because of the wealth, she is reunited with her parents.

Mary Walter's other roles in the si-lents were those of Gregorio Fernandez's wife in Desperation, the princess who chooses a deformed beggar in Principe Teñoso, a moro princess in Moro Pirates, and an aswang who feasts on dead bodies in Mang Tano (Nuno ng mga Aswang).

In Ang Gayuma, directed by Carlos Vander Tolosa, she plays a Cardona maiden who is given sampaguita leis everyday by sweetheart Eduardo de Castro. A rich man from the city, played by Gregorio Fernandez, chances upon her and covets her. One day, she is fooled into smelling a handkerchief soaked in love potion and is raped. Feeling disgraced, she attempts to commit suicide by drowning in the river but is rescued in time by her lover. Despite everything, he keeps his promises and marries her in church. In Sa Labi ng Lumang Libingan, a trilogy also directed by Carlos Vander Tolosa, she is the hapless beggar who dies on the street. Her cadaver is summarily pushed into agaping hole by her penniless son who cannot afford to buy a casket.

Mary was often called upon to play dual roles. She was both the cruel stepmother and the persecuted daughter in Nanay Ko. In flaw ng Kapitbahay, she was the ill-starred widow who has to give away her children and the elder daughter who tries to reunite the broken family. In Lihim ni Bathala, she was the rape victim and the daughter, the fruit of her disgrace. When the daughter grows up, she is courted unawares by the rapist, a rich man. A church wedding is set, but then, the mother stumbles upon the identity of her daughter's fiance. She rushes to the church and reveals the ugly truth.

Mary Walter's recollections of the silent era were mostly of Jose Nepomuceno's studio in San Juan. There was not much difference between the way they made films before and the present. Since it was a silent medium, the director was very particular with movements and facial expressions; the actors were usually ordered about on what to do. There was no dialogue but a semblance had to be effectuated. Mary said her lines in either Spanish or English just so it would appear that she was talking.

The silent movies were shown with two orchestras alternating. Admission was at fifty centavos, loge, and thirty centavos, orchestra. There was a growing clamor for local films and by the end of the silents, the star system had become pronounced.

Optical sound came in 1933. Mary was only able to make the transition a year later with the help of William Smith. She appeared in several films for Filippine Films: Hinagpis ng Magulang, X-3-X, Kuwintas ng Himutok, Buhok ni Ester, to name a few. Sadly these films are not available for viewing.

Just before the outbreak of the war, she made Niña Bonita for LVN. It was shown during the war along with the second version of Prinsipe Teñoso, directed by Manuel Conde.

After the war, Mary made several comebacks. She appeared as the mother of Efren Reyes in the late forties and the mother of Fernando Poe Jr. and Zaldy Zshornack in the late fifties and early sixties.

In the seventies, she appeared in many of the films of Lino Brocka: Stardoom, Santiago, Lumuha Pati Mga Angel, Cadena de Amor. She gave one of her most memorable performances in Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa as the possessive mother who pretends to be a cripple so that her daughter, Lolita Rodri-quez, would renounce marriage.

She was also impressive in other directors' films. In Elwood Perez's Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae, she injected humor in her role as the lesbian lover of Amalia Fuentes. In Boy Negro, she was the understanding septuagenarian matriarch of Phillip Salvador's family.
In her late age, Mary Walter is still active in movies and television. Her body of works has spanned several generations. This is indeed proof of her durability as a movie actress.