Thursday, October 11, 2012


A lot of Filipinos long for days gone by, with many of them embracing their yearning for the past in one of the more preferable ways they can other than by enjoying what are nothing more than sentimental reveries: to objectify these reveries in cinematic form.

Any Filipino of the right age who watches the 1969 action movie “Impasse,” starring who was then a budding young American actor in Burt Reynolds, will agree that this somewhat obscure action-adventure flick, no matter how good or bad one might consider it, can appeal to those who worship the past like an opiate that helps one forget the anxious present. “Impasse”, directed by Richard Benedict, takes place almost entirely in the pre-martial law Philippines, a period that many baby-boomer Filipinos wished they could relive.

Not that the Philippines in the late 1960’s was perfect. Far from it. By the time of the filming of “Impasse” in 1969, there was growing evidence that the Philippine economy under President Ferdinand Marcos was having all kinds of stumbles and experiencing a similar amount of anomalies. In 1969, Filipinos also had their attention focused on what would be one of the dirtiest presidential elections in Philippine history up to that point between the incumbent Ferdinand Marcos and his challenger Sergio OsmeƱa Jr.

Still, “Impasse” reaffirmed the promise of a developing Philippine society which from its vivid, airy physical appearances in the movie became shorthand for a huskily tropical and vibrant backdrop for Burt Reynolds to do his action thing.

The story of “Impasse” is as old a story as it gets for a hazardous adventure picture: three former and aging American GIs from World War Two in the Philippines, some twenty-plus years after the fact, have formed a four-man team headed by the treasure-seeking Reynolds. Their goal is a stash of gold hidden away by the retreating Americans during the Japanese assault in 1942 on Corregidor island in Manila Bay.

The point being that all four—with the exception of Reynolds’s character who makes anything like a decent living from his salvaging enterprise—are down on their luck moneywise, if not completely hard up. Exposure to poverty combined with colorful avarice is always a great motivator and it is no different with the quartet of searchers. Indiana Jones could learn a thing or two from these disparate characters.

Disparate characters indeed. Director Richard Benedict put together a cast made up of a strapping Mexican (Rodolfo Acosta), a cantankerous American (Lyle Bettger), and pudgy veteran Filipino actor Vic Diaz. There is also pretty actress Anne Francis who adds a nice, feminine touch to the film as Burt Reynolds’s love interest. But it is Reynolds who is the central pillar that all the others must lean on if they are to see their material fantasies come true. Reynolds’s character, Pat Morrison, mounts the four-man expedition on the preconception that his partners-in-crime can remember exactly where they hid the gold under US Army orders on Corregidor.

The plot of “Impasse” drifts front and center into a porous regime of protracted intrigue that nudges viewers enticingly closer to its exciting conclusion. The plot however, with all of its shortcomings, rides nicely across the Philippine urban landscape but comes in second to Reynolds’s unpretentious cunning, charm, ambition, and physicality. It is worth waiting out the movie’s zippy if slackly-constructed plot just to watch Reynolds in spontaneous action in the Philippines before the calamity of martial law was laid down on the Filipino people.


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