Back in 1950 Tyrone Power, the dashing actor known in the ‘40s and ‘50s for dozens of romantic and swashbuckling roles, was filming “An American Guerrilla in the Philippines” on location. My elder sister, Connie, had invited me to go along with her and her husband, Charlie Wilson, a PAL pilot who happened to have flown Power to Manila. Connie had been among the first batch of stewardesses hired when “Asia’s First Airline,” as Philippine Airlines now calls itself, was first established. That was how she ended up marrying Charlie Wilson, one of the American pilots hired during the airline’s early days.
I tagged along as Charlie drove us to Batangas to the town of Morong, which features an imposing old church on its main plaza. That was where the movie’s final attack scene was being filmed. After Charlie introduced us to the actor, he asked one of the extras to snap our picture. By that time my giddiness at shaking hands with an Adonis had subsided somewhat.
After recently watching the movie on YouTube, I dug up that old photo, which I recall displaying over the years to my envious classmates and various friends. I don’t remember having watched the movie when it was first shown in Manila, but my late husband, Tony, once related having gone to a cinema in New Haven, Connecticut, when he was studying at Yale University. He said he laughed out loud (to the audience’s consternation) during a serious scene---the one where Tyrone Power announces to his guerrilla mates that they would have to walk all the way from Luzon to Mindanao
I thought the handsome Power, who had taken on a rugged look with his crew cut, played his role as the GI-turned-guerrilla competently. So did the gangly Tom Ewell, who had starred with Marilyn Monroe in “The 7-Year Itch” and played Power’s deputy. Former child star Tom Cook, assuming a phony Pinoy accent for his role as the boy Miguel, was plainly awful.
Even more awful was French actress Michelline Presle as Power’s love interest. Richardson’s account mentioned a brief affair with a Spanish mestiza surnamed Corominas, which makes inexplicable why a Latina or mestiza Pinay actress could not have been cast in the role instead of a French one--perhaps no such ladies existed in Hollywood at the time. One corny scene shows Presle, in a clinch with Power, singing a French lullaby, which transitions into a Pinoy love song when the two kiss. Throughout the film she is incongruously well dressed, even when on a riverbank beating laundry with a wooden pallet along with the local women.
What will be notable for Filipinos who lived through that era is the background music composed by Briton Cyril Mockridge, who wrote music for dozens of other Hollywood films. Impressively he did his research well. Along with the anthem “Philippines, My Philippines (“I love my own native land”), which I recall singing in grade school after WWII, Mockridge incorporates Pinoy folksongs like “Dandansoy (inom tuba laloy)” and other native tunes into the overall theme music.
The screenplay was written by the famed Lamar Trotti, who’d worked on films like “Guadalcanal Diary,” “The Razor’s Edge,” “Young Mr. Lincoln” and many others in the late ‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s. He produced the script based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ira Wolfert about P.T. boat officer I.D. Richardson’s guerrilla experience in the Philippines. Fritz Lang, the formidable Austrian director known for classics like “Metropolis,” “Lilom” and “Clash by Night,” was the director.
“American Guerrilla in the Philippines” was reviewed by New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther who called it “hackneyed and dull, more a misfired fiction than a semi-documentary report,” and he described the Filipino bit players as “stiff and self-conscious.” Notwithstanding that, it seems reception in the U.S. was good and the film was awarded three stars.
Nevertheless the film, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, is interesting, especially for Filipinos and those who know the Philippines. It may be absurd in parts, but it does remind one of what transpired in the country during World War II, marking both American and Japanese exploits.
Harking back to my teenage meeting with the dishy Tyrone Power may be a nice memory to recount to my granddaughters, along with photographic proof. They’d be polite about Lola’s nostalgia and would probably find it all rather quaint, preferring their own glamorous rock stars.
Isabel Escoda has lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years, teaching English and writing on migrant worker issues, particularly about her compatriot Filipinas in the Chinese territory. She contributes to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and published books titled "Letters from Hong Kong," "Hong Kong Postscript" and "Pinoy Abroad."
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