My Son the Consul-General (1940)

Hard-up student Inkeri (Helena Kara) wins a trip to That Fancy Stockholm, and in order not to stick out on the ship, borrows some clothes and accessories from her rich friend Kaisu (Lea Joutsena). She does everything she can to attract the attentions of the handsome Taavi Takkulainen (Tauno Majuri) but he is immune to her charms, largely because he recognises her borrowed cigarette case as a Korri family item, and assumes she is an irritating rich girl, as opposed to what she actually is, which is an irritating poor one. After this rather pointless case of mistaken identity, the young couple hit it off, and agree to meet the next day at the Grand Hotel, where Taavi’s brother Albert (Uuno Laakso), the Consul General, also happens to be staying.

In a series of farcical set-ups, betraying the origins of this film in a 1934 theatrical piece by The King of Poetry and the Migratory Bird’s Elsa Soini, everybody manages to miss each other, and someone ends up holding a fur coat like the Prince in Cinderella. Inkeri takes a job at the Takkulainen household, tutoring the family’s youngest son Erkki (Hannes Häyrinen). Confusions continue as the pushy mother of the Takkulainens tries to manoeuvre Inkeri into marrying Albert in order to increase his prospects as an international diplomat. Inkeri is batted between the brothers like a giggly tennis ball, before eventually Taavi wins through, dashing to her hospital room in the belief that she is dead, only to discover that she is perfectly fine and ready to hear his confession of undying love.

All this might sound rather humdrum, and indeed, on its later TV broadcast, the critic Ilkka Juonala rightly dismissed it as “a rather routine Finnish comedy that drives along the same old safe and familiar roads.” But over the Christmas season of 1940, this mediocre farce garnered oodles of praise in the nation’s newspapers. Kauppalehti singled out its “relentless pace”, Uusi Suomi called it “a triumph of cultural comedy” and Aamulehti called it a “fast-paced and funny film.”

As suggested by the fact that the titular consul doesn’t get the girl in the film, the movie version differed substantially from the original play, to the extent of marrying Inkeri off to a different brother. It also adds an entirely new first act – the play took place solely in the Takkulainen office and library, whereas for the film version, writer-director Ilmari Unho throws in that whole Swedish sequence at the beginning, presumably as a means of getting everybody away on a tax-deductible, fur-coat-wearing jolly to Stockholm amid wartime austerity measures. The opening half-hour, in fact, extends the running time to 109 minutes, which made it something of a whopper among many “features” of the era that struggled to make it past the 60-minute mark. Unsurprisingly, it’s the cast’s sly Swedish trip that is the most interesting part of this film, with glimpses of shipboard life before the Stockholm ferry became little more than a karaoke booze-cruise. The bulk of the film, however, was conspicuously shot in Helsinki, with only a few scattered Stockholm exteriors to suggest that the crew even got off the boat.

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Short History of Finland.  He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.

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