Kuba sa Quiapo Was Our 1949 Take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The year 1949 was a turning point in Philippine history. It was the end of a decade ravaged by war. The country was rebuilding itself from the aftermath of World War II and, at the same time, finding its voice in the world as a new sovereign nation.
It was also the year when writer and director Nemesio Caravana gave us Kuba sa Quiapo, an adaptation of the 1831 French gothic novel by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The plot of Kuba sa Quiapo is similar to Hunchback, but instead of Paris, it was set in the heart of Manila in Quiapo Church.
Kuba sa Quiapo represents the readiness of the Philippines to take on the world. The filmmaking industry in the country was largely halted during the Japanese occupation of the islands. When liberation came in 1946, filmmakers naturally churned out movies about life during the war. Most postwar films carried themes of heroism and patriotism, often highlighting the emotions of the characters as seen in Walang Kamatayan (1946), Tatlong Maria (1944), and Dawn of Freedom (1944).
Kuba sa Quiapo was the first local adaptation of a foreign story during the decade. It starred two of the most popular actors in Philippine cinema: Leopoldo Salcedo, aka “The Great Profile,” and Mila Del Sol, whose acting career helped build the reputation of LVN Pictures.
Leopoldo Salcedo, Kuba sa Quiapo
Mila Del Sol
Unlike many local postwar films produced, Kuba sa Quiapo was a drama filled with hope. No one would have cast the very handsome Salcedo as the hunchback bell ringer of Quiapo, but that was exactly one of the feats of the film, which was to make him unrecognizable.
In this still image from the film, Salcedo stands inside the Quiapo Church. In the background is the statue of the Black Nazarene mounted on the baldachin.
Poster of Kuba sa Quiapo
After Kuba sa Quiapo, many other adaptations of foreign novels and stories would find their way to Philippine cinema, among them the award-winning biopic Genghis Khan (1950) written, directed, and produced by National Artist for Film Manuel Conde.
The late 1940s and early ’50s represented the First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. The decade saw a resurgence in filmmaking and the substantial growth of regional films from the Visayas. Two of the biggest production companies at the time were LVN Pictures and its rival Sampaguita Pictures.
Sadly, most of the films produced during that decade were lost or have become too damaged to restore.