Lips to Lips: The Evolution of Kissing Scenes in Philippine Movies
By the first two decades of the American Occupation in the Philippines, the influence of our new masters became more pronounced, from how we snacked to to how we dressed to how we got around and even to the way we consumed entertainment. For example, the rickety Spanish-era cinematografo teatros—cinematographic theaters where short films were screened—gave way to newer, more modern edifices.
Cine houses sprouted bearing American names: Empire, Majestic, Modern. Many existing theaters like Ideal and Cine Moderna were enlarged and updated with new acoustics to suit the latest trend in films—talking pictures—as well as to accommodate the growing number of star-struck moviegoers.
But when it came to film choices, traditions die hard. Filipinos clung to Spanish-influenced themes, which they believed reflected their own culture and values. As such, religious pictures depicting biblical characters and stories—Passion Play, Los Milagros de la Virgen de Antipolo—were the most popular in the early years of Philippine cinema. In 1911, for example, Life of Moses was the blockbuster film.
OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS. Starring the flirtatious Joanne Crawford and John Mack Brown, the Hollywood-made film tackled the controversial subject of the 'loosening of youth morals,' which was never before seen in local cinemas. It was shown in 1929 at the Ideal Theater. Before the 1920, religious themed-movies were the most popular.
This pattern changed when Hollywood stars came to town and overshadowed European performers. These larger-than-life screen figures not only became the new idols of the movie masses, but their films also became powerful mediums of Americanization.
A far cry from the plotless, disjointed films of old, American films, with their superior production, were windows to the changing ways, mores, and attitudes of the modern world. Depictions of sex and kissing in movies, under the cloak of harmless amusement, provided sensual fulfillment, among others. The effect was so pronounced it also triggered the evolution of kissing scenes in Philippine movies.
Ideal, for example, showed MGM films that captivated even the morality-conscious Filipinos. Fiery love stories like Woman of Affairs and Our Dancing Daughters tackled “the loosening of youth morals.”
A WOMAN’S AFFAIRS. A Greta Garbo-Gilbert Roland starrer, first shown in 1929 at the Ideal Theater. Just three years before, the same stars indulged in the first open-mouth kiss on screen, which shocked audiences worldwide. Hollywood Films such as this changed Filipino attitudes toward overt displays of affection such as kissing.
Filipino males ogled early sex sirens, Theda Bara, Clara Bow, and later, Greta Garbo. Women secretly admired the bedroom charms of Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Ramon Novarro, and John Gilbert.
Filipino filmmakers foresaw the lucrative future of this new art, with Jose Nepomuceno (b. May 15, 1893; d. Dec. 1, 1959) at the helm. Known today as the “father of Philippine Movies,” Nepomuceno exhibited his first dramatic feature, Dalagang Bukid, in 1917, followed by a string of usual Spanish-titled films. Two fires destroyed his studios and equipment, but Nepomuceno rebuilt his business in 1924 with the help of University of Southern California law graduate and Hollywood-trained actor and director, Dr. Vicente Salumbides.
Salumbides not only introduced new techniques in screenwriting, design, editing, and cinematography, but also dared defy guardians of morality—including movie censors—by showing on the silver screen, the first ever kiss in Philippine movie history.
THE KISS THAT STARTED IT ALL. Couple May Irwin and John Rice re-enact the kiss from the musical The Widow Jones. This was captured on film in April 1896.
The world’s first kissing scene captured on film was shot in April 1896 at Edison Studios, New Jersey. It was between May Irwin and John Rice, a re-enactment of the kiss from the stage musical The Widow Jones . The 18-second kiss—which includes sweet nuzzling and short pecks—shocked the Catholic Church who called for its censorship. Not only was this ignored, the film instead spawned three copycat film versions: Negro Kiss (1898), The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899), and The Kiss (1900).
LEARNING FRENCH. The first open-mouth French kiss, performed by reel-real life lovebirds, Greta Garbo and Gilbert Roland, in the movie The Flesh and the Devil.
In due time, passionate displays of affection were routine in American movies. But the most explicit was performed by reel and real life lovers, Greta Garbo and Gilbert Roland, in the movie, The Flesh and the Devil, shown in 1926. Their torrid, open-mouth kissing was the first French kiss in an American film. Their lip-smacking moments were photographed by William Daniels, using natural lighting (such as a lit match stick), and were described as “very erotic.”
That very same year, Salumbides began a film project with the title Tatlong Hambog, a silent romantic comedy starring the hunky Luis Tuason, a nationally ranked boxer and the Filipina-American actress Isabel Rosario (Elizabeth) Cooper (aka “Dimples Cooper” on the bod-a-bil stage).
FIRST MOVIE KISSING SCENE IN PHILIPPINE MOVIES. Luis Tuason and Isabel Cooper (aka “Dimples”) made history by smooching on the silver screen in Tatlong Hambog, a silent picture produced by Jose Nepomuceno in 1926. Cooper later became a mistress of Gen. Douglas Macarthur.
The story called for a kissing scene, which Filipino directors usually simulated using tricks such as fading out the lights before the lips of the actors touched or shooting from the back so as to hide the actors’ lips.
Salumbides and his stars dared break the kissing taboo by performing the real thing—a full mouth-to-mouth kiss that was shot against the ruins of the old Guadalupe Church in Makati. It is, today, recognized as the first historic osculation in Philippine movies and it certainly paved way for more expressive kissing scenes in future Philippine movies.
An undated silent picture, La Hija de la Revolucion, starring Mary Walter and Gregorio Fernandez, also featured a kissing scene between the two stars. Though no photo exists, Walter said in a 1962 magazine interview: “It was a kiss and there was no faking about it.”
Director Salumbides began shooting another movie later in the year titled Fate or Consequence. This time, he did not just direct a film, but also starred in it. Written into the script was another intense kissing scene.
The Manila Carnival of 1926 just ended, and Salumbides convinced some of the candidates to appear in his film, including Muslim princess and former Miss Cotabato, Sofia Lota (real name: Pinaganda Magadi Sinambal Malibatang). Also cast in the film was Miss Pampanga, Rosario Panganiban, whom Salumbides had been squiring for some time. They had met through Salumbides’ niece, Nanita, who was a classmate of Panganiban's at Centro Escolar de Señoritas.
A WHOLE LOTA LOVE: The exotic Mindano beauty queen, Sofia Lota, locked lips with Vicente Salumbides in the 1926 film, Fate or Consequence. Salumbides was also the director of the film.
When the cameras began rolling, Salumbides and Lota embraced and locked lips—much to the chagrin of Panganiban, who was watching the shoot. She was livid.
“When I saw you (Salumbides) kissing Miss Cotabato, I suffered the worst feeling of jealousy although we were not engaged at that time. I don’t want to experience another attack of that sort. It’s better to be away from temptation,” Panganiban recalled saying.
Needless to say, that movie kiss fast-tracked the wedding of Salumbides and Panganiban. As for Lota, “the exotic find from the untamed regions of Cotabato” puckered up again in her next movie, “Lumang Simbahan,” doing it this time with Gregorio Fernandez. Lota became one of the most sought-after stars in the showbiz circuit.
MOUTH-WATERING. Fernando Poe Sr. and Rosa del Rosario caroused and kissed underwater and on land in this 1937 classic movie directed by Eduardo Castro.
Image: (Zamboanga Movie 1937) Robert G. Published on Jul 14, 201
It took over a decade before another much-talked about kissing scene happened. This time, it was in the 1937 Zamboanga, the first Philippine full-color movie from Filippine Films. Famed director Frank Capra proclaimed it as “the most exciting and beautiful picture of native life I have ever seen on screen.”
The story about the seafaring southern tribes starred Rosa del Rosario as Minda and Fernando Poe Sr. as Danao. It featured the first underwater kissing scene and more smooching on land.
Of her kissing scenes in the movie, del Rosario later mused: “My underwater sequence with Fernando Sr., were nothing compared to my kissing scenes with Johnny Mack Brown in Hollywood westerns.” Del Rosario was referring to the 1946 cowboy photoplay, Border Bandits, where she was cast as Brown’s love interest.
Not to be outdone, the 1939 Visayan talkie, Bartoldo Balodoy, featuring leading man Ben Ollada, paid lip service to his leading lady. But so defective was the sound system of Cebu’s Vision Theater, where the movie was screened, that a crackling smack was loudly heard all over the cinema.
KISS ME, JOE! Matinee idols Rogelio dela Rosa and Norma Blancaflor had their kissing moment in the 1946 rom-com movie, Victory Joe.
After the war, producers had more reasons to insert titillating kissing moments in their films. The 1946 romantic comedy from LVN pictures, Victory Joe, showed a long, romantic kiss between Norma Blancaflor and her suitor, Rogelio dela Rosa, who had just returned from the war.
WE KISS IN THE SHADOWS. Vic Oliver and Erlinda Cortez do some serious kissing in the 1947 movie Dalawang Anino.
When things settled a year later, movie fans were treated to the provocative kiss performed by Vicente Oliver and Erlinda Cortes, complete with tight embracing and hair clutching. The 1947 blurb of the love-drama Dalawang Anino referred to this fervid display of feelings as the result of the “baliw na pagnanasang umabot sa sukdulan ng pagbubunyag” (crazed desire that reached the point where it had to be revealed).
KISS UNIVERSE. Armi Kuusela and Virgilio Hilario in the movie based on their love story, Now and Forever (1953). Beauty queen Kuusela was a guest of the 1953 Philippine International Exposition when she met the dashing businessman. The pair became man and wife soon after.
By the 1950s, kissing in Philippine movies became more common, and in fact, more fashionable. The first Miss Universe Armi Kuusela and beau Virgilio Hilario showed people how it was done in their 1953 debut Now and Forever.
A VETERAN AT KISSING. In Anak Dalita (1956), Rosa Rosal plays a prostitute who falls for Vic, a war veteran, ably played by Tony Santos Sr.
The Golden Harvest Best Film awardee at the 1956 Asia-Pacific Film Festival, Anak Dalita (1956), had, perhaps, the best horizontal-position kiss administered by Tony Santos Sr. on screen vamp Rosa Rosal. In the film, Rosal was Cita, a prostitute with a heart of gold, who fell in love with a returning injured Korean war soldier, Vic, portrayed by Santos. The fleeting, loving kiss was just about the only hopeful moment in a story filled with sorrow and squalor.
CARIÑO BRUTAL. Aida Cariño and Oscar Moreno were the star performers in “the most sizzling kissing scene ever shot for a Philippine film,” at least in 1957. This was in the movie, Objective: Patayin si Magsaysay.
After reviewing local films, weekly magazine Variety voted the kissing-in-bed scene of film veteran Oscar Moreno and young actress Aida Cariño as “the most sizzling kissing scene in Philippine movies, to date.” The scene was shot for Champion Pictures’ Objective: Patayin si Magsaysay, released in 1957.
It was also in the '50s that American production outfits began discovering the Philippines as a perfect shooting location for war pictures, which were all the rage at that time. Filipino actresses were often typecast as island girls who stole American soldiers’ hearts. It was not difficult to persuade our conservative actresses to kiss their American leading men—for the sake of art.
TAKE ONE KISSER. Filipino actress Alicia Vergel resisted a kissing scene in the 1957 movie Day of the Trumpet with American John Agar, but changed her mind and did the scene in one take. Agar asked for more, which sent her scurrying away.
Alicia Vergel reluctantly complied when she was cast as John Agar’s love interest in the 1958 film, Day of the Trumpet, a joint Filipino-American production. ”I didn’t like to do the kissing scene,” she said. But then she reconsidered when she realized that “the film would be dull in America without the kissing scene.”
Her only condition was that the kissing scene be done in one take. Vergel got a good “take one” kiss. But, as she related, “John Agar commented that he liked the kiss so much that he wanted one more take!” Vergel demurred, and reacted by scampering away from the set, bawling all the while. She recalled later that Agar came back to appease and humor her. “I feel insulted,” he said. “You are the first leading lady I kissed who cried.”
PARALUMAN SURRENDERS TO A KISS. German-Filipino actress Paraluman had a record four kissing scenes with American actor Keith Andes in the war movie, Surrender Hell, shot in 1958.
The lovely Paraluman had no qualms about kissing a foreigner, and required no persuasion. “As long as it is done with finesse and the script calls for it, I do not object to it,” she declared like a pro.
When she was cast with American Keith Andes in the 1959 war action film Surrender Hell (an Allied Artists movie based on Gen. Donald Blackburn’s exploits), Paraluman not only had one, but four serious smooching scenes with her leading man, an experience she enjoyed. “It’ all in a day’s work,” she quipped.
George Montgomery was already a big star of TV and the silver screen when he returned to the Philippines in 1961. He was previously in the country in 1955 to shoot a guerrilla movie titled Huks with Mona Freeman.
This time around, Montgomery was set to direct—and star—in yet another war film: The Steel Claw. As the handicapped John Larsen whose right hand was replaced by a hook, he meets a mestiza, Lolita Smith—played by Charito Luna.
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. In the 1961 war film The Steel Claw, Filipina Charito Luna and George Montgomery had some lovey-dovey moments that ended with some heavy kissing, dominated by Charito.
In contrast to the shy, demure roles assigned to Filipinas, Luna’s character was more wordly and aggressive. As Lolita, she came on strong to the captain, and soon, their small talk led to some rolling in the grass, culminating in a meeting of lips, with Charito on top.
Two movies in the '60s made tabloid news—and not just because they featured sensational kissing scenes. “The first local picture wherein kissing scenes will be consummated," “the first Tagalog movie with real, honest-to-goodness kissing scenes” heralded the blurbs used to promote Huwag Mo Akong Limutin, director Gerry de Leon’s 1960 opus.
KISSING LESSONS FROM THE SENIORS. The 1961 movie Huwag Mo Akong Limutin ran afoul of the censor’s rules because of its controversial themes. But the movie won major awards at the FAMAS, including acting awards for the kissing seniors, Oscar Keesee and Arsenia Francisco.
As it turned out, it was not the double kissing scenes (performed by Oscar Keesee with Arsenia Francisco and Cesar Ramirez with Cynthia Zamora) that alarmed the local censors board, but the central themes of the flick: marital infidelity, kidnapping, and abortion. The movie was briefly banned, until it was re-edited. De Leon was vindicated when the film dominated that year’s FAMAS, winning eight awards, including Best Film and Best Director trophies. Senior kissers Keesee and Francisco both won supporting acting awards, too.
KISS-KISS, BANG-BANG. Ronald Remy holds the distinction of being the first Filipino actor to kiss an American actress full on the lips, He traded kisses with Sylvia Lawrence in the 1961 war movie, Bus to Bataan.
The next year, Bus to Bataan, another war film with Filipino and American stars, was shown in theaters to the thrill of movie fans. Filipino Ronald Remy turned the tables on Pinays kissing American actors by French-kissing American actress Sylvia Lawrence. Remy eventually became a born-again religious leader, while Lawrence shifted to costume design, leading to many Emmy awards and nominations later on.
After a while, it seemed every other film, no matter what the genre, was inserting kissing scenes as part of the story’s attraction. In 1964, the comedy spoof, James Bandong, had funny man Chiquito cavorting with sexpot Miriam Jurado. Their beach shore romp ended in a smooch that went down as the longest, uninterrupted kiss in local cinema. It lasted for all of six minutes.
All hell broke loose at the onset of the '70s as local producers took the counterculture slogan, “make love, not war,” literally, by churning out soft-core movies known as bomba films. Uhaw, based on a komiks series touted as “the most daring and boldest story ever written,” was considered the first bomba film and featured Merle Fernandez. Fly-by-night producers cashed in on the bomba trend, but pushed the envelope further by adding not just scandalous kisses of all kinds, but also real, hardcore sex.
But nothing prepared the audience for one of the most unexpected kisses ever to be seen on theater screens. In 1971, the multi-awarded director, Lino Brocka, made the film Tubog sa Ginto, a story about an unfulfilled woman married to a closet-gay husband who had a secret affair with his male driver.
The theme of the movie was controversial enough, but Brocka defied government censorship and religious censure by showing the first no-holds barred gay kissing scene on Philippine cinema, between the homosexual husband Don Benito (Eddie Garcia) and his young stud Diego (Mario O’Hara).
MAN-TO-MAN RESUSCITATION. Lino Brocka broke barriers by introducing the first gay kiss in the film, Tubog sa Ginto (1971). Eddie Garcia and the late Mario O’Hara shared daring kisses (as well as a shower), all done in the buff.
With a story written by the venerable comics legend Mars Ravelo and shot under the helm of a respected director, no dissenting voice was heard, not even a whimper. Tubog sa Ginto was given the ultimate accolades during the FAMAS season, winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor plus two other acting nominations.
The Garcia-O’Hara gay kiss was unprecedented in our media history, predating the first gay-themed drama series in Philippine television, My Husband’s Lover (2013), where the conflicted Tom Rodriguez (as Vincent) planted an oh-so-tender kiss on his object of affection, Dennis Trillo (as Eric). Unfortunately, the full kiss was not shown on TV, in deference to the MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board); it is included, however, in the DVD release.
Kissing has now been featured in Philipines movies for nearly a hundred years. Since then, every imaginable taboo, once unspoken and forbidden, has been depicted in various ways, especially in the Internet age, including couples of different genders and sexual orientations, husbands with multiple queridas, priests having affairs, mature women indulging in carnal pleasures with young men (remember the rough kissing of young Tom Labrusca and Angel Aquino in Glorious?), among others.
There’s nothing like a kiss to incite and ignite the audience’s full range of emotions—warming hearts, conjuring the magic of romance, arousing feelings of giddiness, naughty thoughts, and let’s face it, lust and sex. Movies give a sense of legitimacy in releasing those feelings with the imprimatur of the censors.
Members of the audience can lose themselves in the kiss and become, for a fleeting moment, the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, the tempestuous Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, the Sheik of Araby and his harem of lovers; or, closer to home, the conquering Machete or the insatiable Curacha, ang Babaeng Walang Pahinga. And since new love teams emerge every day on the silver screen, movies will never run out of kisses, because, just as the song reminds us—the world will always welcome lovers… as time goes by.
- “First Philippine Movie Kiss”, Sunday Times Variety, 1 May 1962. P. 3
- GRAPHIC Magazine, July-August 1929 issues
- “The History of the Kiss in Philippine Cinema”. PIC, The Ultimate Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 11, 1972.
- Constantino, Ronald K., Lo, Ricardo F. The Golden Years: Memorable Tagalog Movie Ads 1946-1956. Published by Danny Dolor, Manila, 1944. P. 18.
- Deocampo, Nick. CINE: Spanish Influences on Tagalog Cinema, Chapter 5: On Viewership, published by The National Commission for the Culture and the Arts. p. 298
- Garcia, Jessie B., A Movie Album Quizbook. Erehwon Books & Magazines, © December 2004 by Jessie B. Garcia.
- Villasanta, Julianito, Tio Ticong Pelikula at Pulitika (Vicente Salumbides) . 2002
- Salumbides, Vicente. Motion Pictures in the Philippines. © 1952, by the author. Ch. 18: Kising in the Movies. P.137.
- Best Movie Kisses of All Time
- Mirana Medina Collection, for the photo of Oscar Keesee and Arsenia Francisco from Huwag Mo Akong Limutin=
- Advocacine Blog