48 Oras (Gerardo de Leon, 1950)
English Title: 48 Hours
The film starts with an attempted prison escape, wonderfully directed by Gerardo de Leon. Two men are chased by prison guards, and the warden is alarmed of the planned escape and orders the guards to bring them back at all costs. A treacherous corner frustrates their escape as prison guards block their way to recapture them and bring them back to the warden. The two men are Carding (Rogelio dela Rosa) and Melchor (Enrico Pimentel), innocent yet convicted for the death of Carding's wife and mother, respectively. The plot follows Carding as he tries to prove his innocence by escaping from the prison then, finding the true perpetrator of the heinous crime.
It's a very good film. De Leon directs with both practical and aesthetic flourish. The action scenes are intense. The battle scenes in Bataan followed by a daring escape from their Japanese captors is filmed with such astounding kinetic energy. De Leon would know where to put his camera to provide the most practical canvass; like where we see a bridge (where the Japanese soldiers are firing at the prisoners) and the river (wherein the prisoners are huddled together and trying to dodge bullets); or when the prisoners are finally captured and are about to meet their fate (we see the Japanese soldiers with their rifles pointed) only to be disrupted by the rescuers who annihilate the Japanese soldiers.
The second prison escape is even more exciting. It all begins with careful whispers between the inmates culminating to the actual escape where the inmates dodge the searchlights and the prison guards. Nearing a successful escape, an inmate gets left behind which alerts the entire prison; bullets are shot feverishly and every one of the inmates are either dead or captured, except for Carding.
It's not only the singular set pieces that contribute to the film's tense character. The entirety of the film itself is an engaging chase against time. Carding, mortally wounded, has only forty eight hours to bring out the truth behind his wife's murder. His dilemma is two-fold: his mortal wound would only allow him to live for the said amount of time, and it is also the same amount of time until Melchor is executed.
De Leon sprinkles the film with plenty of close-calls, like the scene where a mumbling doctor who sneaks away to alarm the police of the escaped felon; or that tense confrontation between Carding and the goons of Andres (Oscar Keesee), the real murderer and treacherous war buddy of Carding, or Carding's battle with death, only to be rescued by a trustworthy priest. De Leon clearly understands the requirements of the genre and he sufficiently addresses such, draping the film with sublime attention and detail that is required of film noir.
The final confrontation is stylish. Set in an office filled with clocks, Andres has Carding's kid as hostage and Carding only has his wit and an injured shoulder to direct his precious gun with. De Leon again showcases his aesthetic and practical sensibilities (with a tinge of inspiration from John Ford); which makes this confrontation extremely exciting. Light is used as an essential element, bullets aren't perpetual commodities, emotions are heightened (invested from the many moments de Leon allows us to believe and empathize with his characters), and we become aware of the time element (this confrontation is a close call; and would be the fateful end or start to him and Melchor's life). De Leon utilizes punctuality in that climactic confrontation (although visually stylish, de Leon does not overindulge in style and keeps the action rolling and unpunctuated).
Of course, it ends wonderfully and happily (Carding reunites with his son, and is regarded the brave soldier instead of a criminal). 48 Oras (48 Hours) is such an exhilarating experience; too bad it'll probably turn into a vinegary mess in a decade's time, or less.