In the Fields of Dreams (1940)

Teenage orphan Sirkka (Sirkka Salonen) meets local rich boy Aarne (Kille Oksanen) when he almost runs her over with his horse. The couple begin a flirtation that leads to a relationship, in which Aarne risks his family name by forging cheques in the name of his elder brother in order to help cover Sirkka’s family debts. When Sirkka inevitably becomes pregnant (this happens so often in Finnish films that one is surprised anyone cares any more), Aarne fights with his brother and leaves the manor. Sirkka gives birth to a son, but the boy is stolen by a gipsy (no, really – Evald Terho in a nameless and off-handedly racist role) in revenge for the poor treatment he received at the manor house. Kirsti (Kirsti Hurme), her former rival for the attentions of Aarne, piles on her troubles by accusing her of having murdered Aarne, for which she goes to prison for six years.

Returning in disgrace to her home town, Sirkka gets work back at the manor house as a maid for Aarne’s elder brother Urho (Kyösti Erämaa), who has always believed that she was framed. Her innocence is finally proven when Aarne shows up in a motor car, announcing that he has merely been away working hard, and the lovers are reunited. Meanwhile, the dying gipsy tells his adopted son (Timo Jokinen) to seek charity at the nearby manor, where the boy is identified by a distinctive birthmark, and reunited with his real parents.

Based on a Swedish film from 1933, itself based on Henning Ohlson’s play Hälsingar (1922), Unelma karjamajalla was already a creature out of time by the time it had its September 1940 premiere, notably not in That Fancy Helsinki, but out in the provinces in Kuopio, Lahti and Pori. This was not a production from the majors, but from the relatively small Tarmo-Filmi company, but it was one of the first movies to make into cinemas after the Winter War, and hence seems to have been unjustly praised by movie critics starved of content. Olavi Vesterdahl in Aamulehti called it “content with the old customary style, and this is perhaps its strongest point.”

Eighty-two years later, the most striking thing about this film is the naturalism of its low-budget exteriors, as director Teuvo Talio snaps windswept location work among the farms of Nurmijärvi and Hämeenlinna, and shoots a tense scene by a ravine as Sirkka Salonen (a former beauty queen in her only feature role) rescues a fallen lamb, accompanied by Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue”. There is also the powerful shadow of class differences. Sirkka Salonen and Kirsti Hurme are fierce, strong presences on the screen when they are bickering with each other, but shapeshift into downcast, timid wallflowers when addressed by the lord of the manor.

Hurme in particular is a striking femme fatale, stealing the show in a role that would propel her out of the theatre and into a brief but remarkable movie career, poached in 1941 by Suomi-Filmi, and effectively becoming the forces’ sweetheart of the Continuation War – her public appearances for the troops were apparently very popular. She appeared in numerous vampy roles over the war years, fading briefly from the public eye after marrying her first husband in 1944, and almost completely after marrying her second, the industrialist Leo Martin, in 1951.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland.  He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.

Hitler’s Arctic War

It’s not that Oula Seitsonen is opposed to what he calls “book history”. It’s just that as he poked around Lapland cataloguing Stone Age archaeological sites for his day-job, he became increasingly aware that a more modern historical presence, that of German soldiers in the 1940s, was slowly fading away. There were, true enough, written records of the Nazi troops who arrived in Finland to hold almost a thousand kilometres of borderlands against the Soviets, but these were subject to recurring reversals and re-interpretations.

Drawing on what would eventually turn into his doctorate, Seitsonen’s Archaeologies of Hitler’s Arctic War chronicles the tangible and intangible heritage of the German presence in Lapland, where, at its peak, German soldiers outnumbered the locals, and its ebb, every single German was hounded from the country when the Finns turned upon them in the Lapland War of 1944-5. On their way out, a scorched-earth policy famously ensured that almost no building was left standing north of Rovaniemi, which is why the locals still sometimes shake matchboxes pointedly at German tourists. Seitsonen specialises in ruins and fragments, and tirelessly hunts down ditches that were once trenches, hillocks that were once middens, and ramshackle sheds that were once machine-gun posts. In this, he is hampered by the fact that one man’s research material is another man’s “war junk”, often at odds with the earnest wishes of the Keep Lapland Tidy movement to “clear up” detritus that has been clogging up forest paths for decades.

Seitsonen begins with an account of the Waffenbrüderschaft against the Soviets, that uneasy cooperation between the Finns and Germans that the Finns insisted was not an alliance, but merely a “co-belligerency pact.” In doing so, he wades through some of the obfuscations and hand-waving that characterise Finnish feelings on the subject, for which, in an understandable fudge common to all nations, nobody really wants to be told a negative story about their own relatives. If one does meet a Finn whose granddad was in the SS, one is liable to be told he was in that special division that got cats out of trees or helped old ladies across the road. He notes that most of the concentration camps established in Finland are now conveniently outside the modern borders, left behind in Karelia when it was lost to the Soviets – the National Archives did not open their photograph collection to researchers until 2013, and even then, many materials lack temporal or geographic metadata. Seitsonen does, however, visit Miehikkilä, still on the Finnish side of the border, and observes that someone is still leaving flowers and tending the mass graves of Soviet civilians there.

The German presence, he writes, has been “largely ignored in national-level narratives,” although I would like to point out that this is not merely a feature of WW2. The German presence in Finland’s own revolution and civil war, for example, was carefully edged out of the national narrative as early as the victory parade in 1918 for the newly independent Finns. An exhibition that ran in 2015 at the Museum of Lapland was movingly titled Wir Waren Freunde: We Were Friends, neatly encapsulating another fact that often eludes modern historians, that the Germans in 1941 were welcomed with open arms as the one power prepared to really help Finland in its time of need, and not for the first time. Imagine, if you will, 67,000 German soldiers suddenly showing up in Ukraine tomorrow, and saying they were there to help, and the kind of impact that would have on the hard-pressed locals.

There are a bunch of military memoirs written by both Finnish and German soldiers, which offer some useful context. But Seitsonen frets about the lack of “experiential perspectives” that would offer a broader sense of what like was like for common soldiers, local people, labourers, lovers and prisoners. Then again, he uncovers Wolfgang von Hessen’s Aufzeichnungen (Records), privately published in 1986, a candid memoir by the major who oversaw transportation on the Arctic Ocean Road. It might sound like no great shakes, except von Hessen was the son of Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, who had been mooted but then booted as the prospective King of Finland in 1918. For a few months in 1918, Wolfgang had been briefly hailed as the heir to the “throne” of Finland… he returned twenty years later to the country that was almost his, where Gustaf Mannerheim would pin a Freedom Cross on him in 1943. Why has this not already been a movie!?

The honeymoon did not last long. The “Hermans”, as the Finns called them, featuring a strong contingent of Austrian mountain jägers, were ridiculously over-confident about the difference they could make in the north, proclaiming “Arktis is nicht” (The Arctic is nothing). Nein, Herman. The Arctic is definitely something, and while German commanders proclaimed that the area was “completely unsuitable for military operations,” the Finns became increasingly disenchanted with the dug-in, advance-averse nature of their co-belligerents. The Germans ridiculed the Finns as a bunch of messy-haired yokels who held up their trousers with string, but it was the Finns, intimately familiar with the landscape and its conditions, who were the most successful against the Soviets. Echoing the sort of “colonialist Othering” that Seitsonen derides in his introduction, the Germans proclaimed that the Finns’ orienteering skills were nothing short of “supernatural”, and before long, they were adopting the locals’ low-tech clothing to keep out the cold, and building fake tanks out of snow to distract Soviets from the fact that whole ten-mile stretches of borders were guarded by little more than a dozen nutters on skis.

“Small girls,” wrote one Captain Ilander, about the full-service teenage ‘cleaning ladies’ draw from the local population, “but hard-bitten, drink alcohol and smoke like real men.” That’s Finnish women for you, who were soon fraternising with the Hermans at many an occasion – the mind boggles at the thought of Albert Speer, the noted Nazi architect, living for a while in a Finnish shed, and coming out to make merry with a bunch of Finns at a Rovaniemi Christmas party. Amid such frivolity, Lapland was in thrall to a series of terror attacks, as roaming platoons of Soviet partisans sought to tie up the troops in the most heartlessly economical way possible, by targeting random civilian settlements. Seitsonen’s archival research includes a picture of a mutilated girl, no older than seven, being carried from a log cabin by a glum soldier. Here, too, there is an issue with “book history”, as most of these partisan atrocities went carefully unreported in the Finnish media – to have given them publicity would have given the Russians what they wanted.

The Russians are another undocumented presence in the history of Lapland. Nine thousand Soviet prisoners of war were drafted as slave labourers to make up for the lack in the region’s manpower, in order to help the Germans create the infrastructure that they required to fight in the manner to which they had become accustomed. Conditions in the nearly 200 camps scattered around Finland ranged from “tolerable” to “inhuman”, but Seitsonen argues that the shadow of this unmentioned labour can still be seen in modern times: “many of the modern roads in Lapland trail the… Second World War tracks, and the cadastral plans of several northern towns follow those of the German barrack villages.” There was, Seitsonen suggests, also a ‘punishment camp’ for Jewish prisoners of war somewhere in Finland, although his researches have yet to officially locate it. It was, presumably nowhere near Syjärvi, where in one of the most absurdly unlikely incidents of WW2, Finnish Jews serving in the army set up the only field synagogue on Nazi front-lines, and held services attended respectfully by their SS comrades. Even so, the Jews fighting alongside the Nazis did so amid recurring rumours that when the war was over, ‘the ship would be waiting’ to take them away to an unknown fate. One of them, the Jewish field doctor Leo Skurnik, was even awarded the Iron Cross after fearlessly carrying wounded SS men out of harm’s way during an attack. He then bluntly refused to accept it, with the words: “I wipe my arse with the Iron Cross.”

Offended by this for some reason, the Nazi authorities demanded that he be handed over, only for his commanding officer to refuse to give up his best doctor. Two other Finnish Jews also refused a German medal, although not quite so colourfully. Having encountered Jewish soldiers on a trip to inspect the Nazi lines, Heinrich Himmler buttonholed the Finnish prime minister, asking him what he was going to do about the Jewish question.

“We have no Jewish question,” was the fantastically Finnish response.

Seitsonen is just as informative concerning the “Ragnarok” that was the Lapland War, as the Germans fled towards the safety of the Norwegian border, leaving behind a hellscape of burning buildings, a rain of burning papers falling from the sky, and a land strewn with mines. For years to come afterwards, there was a risk of exploding reindeer – as is his wont, Seitsonen points out that the grim truth, that hundreds of local people also lost their lives to mines after the war, and some 2,000 were injured, was only really publicised in 2012. A year later, arguably explaining why it had been kept quiet for so long, a metal detectorist looking for Nazi memorabilia in Kemi was killed by a grenade he was cleaning.

The church bells went missing from the burned Kuusamo church in 1944, and were only recovered in 1959, when a German visitor revealed that they had been saved by an SS officer who had fallen in love with a local girl to the sound of those bells, and had consequently hidden them in the local graveyard.

Seitsonen’s excavations of fragments of stoves, cutlery and smashed Nazi crockery prove to be utterly fascinating. He demonstrates with cunning didactic power how easy it is even for modern archaeologists to read too much into simple materials – Were those binders burned to hide evidence? Was that smashed Pelikan ink bottle used to tattoo prisoners? Or was it just a bottle of ink. He draws a logistical map of Europe, to show where the artefacts in Finnish ditches were manufactured in the Nazi empire, and tabulates the diet of the soldiers based on whatever he can dig out of their middens – not merely a predictable 30% local reindeer component, but Danish cattle and Argentinian corned beef.

He points out the many subtle shifts and redactions of local history that shield and obscure the wartime era. Sometimes, they are in plain sight, like the Alppimaja (Alpine Lodge) district on Oulu’s Tirolintie (Tyrol Street), named for the Austrian jägers once quartered there. Others are less well-known. The patriotically named Kalevalankartano (Estate of the Kalevala), for example, was originally built as the Oulu SS Officers’ Club, and come to think of it, does look rather Teutonic. And there’s comedy gold as it turns out that the world-famous Santa Claus Village, in Rovaniemi, is built on the site of a former Luftwaffe airbase, and that the year-on-year expansion of the Village threatens to wipe out many archaeological materials from its previous existence.

Seitsonen finishes with an observation about the nature of history and memory, and how even memorials carved in stone can be fungible. In a school in Vuotso, outside Sodankylä, there is a standard 1939-1944 Isanmaa Puolesta (For the Fatherland) memorial, which features a death in 1959 – a local boy, killed by an unexploded bomb. Such tragedies are included by the Finns in official accounts of the “war dead”, for a war that is still not over until the last of its materials cease to kill.

Amidst all of this, the Sámi watch, unmoved. For them, the Germans were just one more colonialist power tearing up the countryside, and their voices in Seitsonen’s book can be entertainingly gruff. One comments that it’s all very well mourning accidental casualties as war-dead, but he has little sympathy for the trophy hunter who got blown up in 2013. “Stupidity has its price,” he scoffs. “They shouldn’t go around taking things from our land.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. Oula Seitsonen’s Archaeologies of Hitler’s Arctic War: Heritage of the Second World War German Military Presence in Finnish Lapland is published by Routledge.

The Child is Mine (1940)

Laundry-worker Elsa (Kaisu Leppänen) marries Antti (Harry Sinijärvi) after a whirlwind one-day courtship, only to suffer for three years of constant failures to have a child together. Increasingly obsessed over getting pregnant, she goes away to the countryside to stay with Antti’s sister Katri (Lilli Sairio), only to enter into a torrid and ultimately fertile romance with local labourer Rannikkolainen (the ever-smoldering Eino Kaipainen). Protesting that she still loves her husband, but cannot keep away from Rannikkolainen’s rugged charms, she continues their affair, despite words of warning from Katri that village gossips are talking about her.

When the ailing Antti comes to visit, Elsa confesses to Rannikkolainen that she is pregnant, but that her child “…is neither yours nor my husband’s. The child is mine.” After Elsa chooses to return to the city with her husband, a heartbroken Rannikkolainen begins a relationship with Kaisu (Regina Linnanheimo), a local girl who has carried a torch for him for years. Elsa, meanwhile, confesses to her dying husband that she is pregnant, and asks for his forgiveness. She returns to the countryside in search of Rannikkolainen, but he has already agreed to marry Kaisu. Accepting her fate, Elsa congratulates Kaisu and returns to the city and her job in the laundry, asking her infant son not to judge her.

Well, that escalated quickly. Drawing on Helvi Hämälainen’s 1937 novel The Empty Embrace (Tyhjä syli), scenarist Arvi Kivimaa delivers a surprisingly progressive account of what was sure to be a recurring social issue in post-war times – a spate of unwed and/or widowed mothers recalling the scandals and tragedies seen before in The Women of Niskavuori (1938), Green Gold (1939) and God’s Judgement (1939). The early scenes of this Suomen Filmiteollisuus film are particularly good on the drudgery of blue-collar work, as Elsa, her biological clock ticking like timpani, pouts and sighs her way around the grim, back-breaking work of washing Finnish bedsheets in the days before washing machines. But as the script makes clear, she is not desperate – she rejects the advances of the handsy chauffeur Nieminen (Ossi Elstelä), so it’s not like she is ready to plight her troth with the first man to blow in her ear.

Not that Antti is a dreamboat hero, sweeping her off her feet. When he proposes to her, with the twin, thin rings of Finnish tradition (one for engagement, the other to be added at the wedding itself) she acts as if he has just run over her cat, and, somewhat gauchely, immediately starts wittering about how this her chance to have a child. In a charmingly Finnish moment, when her fellow washerwomen see that she has got engaged, they line up to shake her hand enthusiastically, bellowing their congratulations – no squeals and squees here. In fact, the no-nonsense, go-getting strength of Finnish women is a constantly recurring theme in this film, showing up in all manner of set-ups, such as the time that Elsa bodily ejects a drunken, abusive man from a tenement, and where she, with her powerful washerwoman’s arms, elects to row a boat on the lake, leaving even the manly Rannikkolainen to meekly hold the tiller.

Actor-turned-director Jorma Nortimo concentrates conspicuously on the joys of the Finnish countryside, as if delivering a celebration of all that is wholesome and good about agrarian life, almost as if suggesting that the sickly Antti was an urban, modern failure – a dud who would have died on Elsa sooner or later anyway, and that Rannikkolainen is something of a noble savage, part-Heathcliff, part-Mellors, doing his bit for posterity by helping to make little Finns. He is helped greatly in this by the casting, since Eino Kaipainen had been a Shatner-esque leading man for years, while Harry Sinijärvi had only appeared in two previous films, and is hence something of a non-entity. Kaipainen, in fact, is so magnetic on-screen that he even manages to get a smile out of Regina Linnanheimo, who as previously noted on this blog, usually looks like she is chewing a wasp. He first appears, driving a horse-drawn milk cart standing up, like a Ben Hur of the Finnish countryside, and is no less gropey with her than the city-man she had previously rebuffed.

Nortimo, meanwhile, tries every trick in the book to inject the film with symbolism and subtleties, such as a scene in which Elsa is filmed through the mesh of a fisherman’s net, as if she, too, is entrapped by her circumstances, or where Elsa and Rannikkolainen’s embrace is shot in silhouette, criss-crossed by telling barbed wire. There are some lovely stills kicking around from this production, suffused with the light of a forgotten Finnish summer, the exteriors presumably held off until the very last days of shooting, in order to make the most of June-July, and have the film ready for its release in September 1940.

The Finnish press of the time was guardedly positive about a “sensitive subject”, although the Swedish-language newspapers seemed to latch onto it as a quintessentially “Finnish” theme, as if only Finnish country bumpkins got up to this sort of thing, and Swedes would never dream of it.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland.  He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.

In the Kitchen (1940)

Engineering student Ari Karma (Tauno Majuri) tries to pitch an innovative motorcycle design to industrialist Mr Virmala (Hugo Hytönen) but is laughted out of the presentation. Undeterred, he vows to create a motorcycle that will trounce the Salama (“Lightning”) factory model at the next big race. Meanwhile, Virmala’s spoilt daughter Arja (Helena Kara) heads off to the beach in a colossal sulk, because her father’s declining factory profits have deprived her of the all-expenses-paid trip to Paris that she was promised. Complaining to her increasingly distant boyfriend Jali (Ville Salminen), she rashly accepts a wager from her friends that she will be unable to work in a real job for more than three months.

These initially unrelated plots soon merge at Hauka Manor, where Arja, already fired from her first job for failing to correctly make coffee, is now working as the world’s worst kitchen maid, while Ari is moonlighting as a chauffeur in order to use the mansion’s garage as a place to build his wonder-bike. Amid a series of backstairs romances and kitchen disasters, Ari and Arja fall for each other, only for Jali to show up at a dinner party where Arja is a server. Ari misunderstands their conversation, and leaves in a rage, convinced that Arja is having an affair.

In the fateful motorcycle race, Arja shocks her father by not cheering for the Salama rider, but for the unknown Ari with his home-made bike. Ari’s design beats Jali on the Salama factory model, and in the celebrations, Ari and Arja are reunited, their true identities revealed.

Based on a 1932 Swedish film, itself deriving from a 1930 Norwegian novel by Sigrid Boon, In the Kitchen’s incredibly dull English title somewhat unfairly dooms it to sound like a crappy home farce, rather than, a multi-location comedy, shot not only in several Finnish towns, but also across the water in Tallinn at the Kloostrimetsa race track — the first “international” Finnish film I can recall in this watchathon. The film went into production shortly after the success of the similar Have I Arrived in a Harem? (1938), and was originally set to star Olavi Reimas, who has been similarly chasing posh totty in Rich Girl (1939) and Green Gold (1939). However, filming was split on either side of the Winter War, during which Reimas was wounded, leading to his replacement with Tauno Majuri. But Majuri does fine in his new role, while Helena Kara, ever bright-eyed and perky onscreen since her star-turn in The Bachelor Patron, is a fine foil.

Kara, in fact, was paused on the brink of meteoric success in Finnish film. She was already a popular star, and was one of three actresses put on a permanent salary by Suomi-Filmi, each of them notably without a background in theatre. However, her former flatmate Sirkka Sari died in a tragic accident on location for Rich Girl, while the third actress, Tuulikki Paananen from The Jaeger’s Bride (1938) fled for America with the outbreak of war. This left Kara as the undisputed queen of Suomi-Filmi, a role she sealed early in 1940 by marrying the studio head and sometime director Hannu Leminen, with whom she would work on a dozen later films.

Not for the first time, Finnish film flirts with the difference between “upstairs and downstairs” as a poor little rich girl cosplays as a working-class servant, learns a little bit about life (in particular, the powerlessness of the subaltern class to defend itself against accusations of theft), and eventually gets the rich boy she deserves. The press reacted with customary Finnish understatement, with Eila Paicheff in Ilta-Sanomat damning it with the faintest of praise: “Two hours spent In the Kitchen is undeniably fun,” she conceded, “and it probably fulfils its purpose.” Latter-day critics have been far kinder; the same newspaper’s Heikki Kataja observed in 1977 on its television broadcast that it featured “witty romance, carefree beautiful people, and pre-war domestic film-making at its most typical, if not least-worst.” Displaying what, for a Finn, was unbridled exuberance, Arto Pajukallio in a 1989 issue of Katso admitted that it was “in some places, a little bit fun, in others, even thrilling.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.

A Time of Roses (1969)

“Helsinki, Finland, in the year 2012 is a prosperous, peaceful society ruled by a meritocracy of technicians. The somewhat smug researcher Raimo (Tuominen) embarks upon a project to compare his time with that of his ancestors, by making a drama-documentary about the life of a figure from the past. He settles upon the life of Saara Turunen (Vepsä), an uneducated saleswoman in the chemicals industry and part-time erotic model, who met with a tragic end in 1976. His mistress and collaborator Anu (Markus) alerts him to the existence of Kisse (also Vepsä), a contemporary woman who bears a striking resemblance to the historical Saara, and who is persuaded to take on her role in the film.”

Over at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I write up the 1969 Finnish oddity A Time of Roses.

Dressed Like Adam and a Bit Like Eve (1940)

Vacationers Aarne (Tauno Palo), a pharmacist, and Paavo (Leo Lähteenmäki), a lieutenant in the army, offer to help the flustered station-master Mr Virimäki (Jalmari Rinne) get back home from the Finnish countryside. The trio set out in a motorboat, in an attempt to catch the steamer or reach the train station, but engine failure and a dunking in the lake leaves the two Good Samaritans wet, naked and marooned on an island.

Dressed like Adam and a Little Bit Like Eve began life as a 1928 novel by Agapetus, the unfunny scribe who has bafflingly provided so many Finnish “comedies” of the 1930s. By the time this 1940 production rolled out, it had already been turned into a film in 1931, as Finland’s first partial “talkie”, starring Jalmari Rinne’s brother Joel, and would re-made in East Germany in 1959, and again in Finland in 1971.

Terrifyingly, Dressed Like Adam begins in song, as Aarne and Paavo dick around their campsite boiling water and singing about the joys of sunshine. Mercifully, however, they soon stop, and get on with the story, a veritable comedy of errors.

As the nervy Mr Virimäki, the unrecognisable Jalmari Rinne boasts a pair of buck teeth that only add to the impression he gives of being the ever-late White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. His panic is pointlessly overblown – the boys pick him up at the dockside mere moments after the steamer has left the harbour, and frankly if he had only stopped pratting around and threatening to swamp the boat, they could have easily caught up with it.

The set-up, of course, superficially recalls Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, and since Finns are involved, one might readily imagine that this, too, would turn into a bunch of people wittering about pets and discussing imaginary illnesses. But no, because within minutes, the boat has broken down, Aarne and Paavo have lost their clothes, and Mr Virimäki is beset upon by a field full of cows. The location work was shot on the manor at Pyhäniemi, a manor near Hollola that can also be glimpsed in several other Suomen Filmiteollisuus productions, including The House at Roinila (1935), All Kinds of Guests (1936), Seven Brothers (1939), and Serenade on a War Trumpet (1939). Its most recent use as a location was for Hella W (2011), a film about the writer Hella Wuolijoki, author of The Women of Niskavuori (1938).

The farce is inevitably compounded when we are introduced to Alli (Sirka Sipälä) and her coterie of beauties exercising in the forest – a bevy of Finnish women in industrial-strength swim-suits, rhythmically lifting medicine balls like a dehydrated Esther Williams routine. She, however, is merely a bit of local colour to distract from the actual drama, which is escaped prisoner Vilho Vikström (Yrjö Tuominen, who played Paavo in the previous 1931 version), hiding out in the forest. Having got into a fight with Vikström and stolen his clothes, Paavo is mistaken for the criminal and arrested by the local police. When Paavo doesn’t return that night, Aarne also swims to the shore in search of him, and ends up having to climb a tree to escape from a dog in Alli’s garden.

Alli throws Aarne some clothes, causing him to spend much of the next act dressed as (and mistaken for) a woman. Cross-dressing comedy then ensues, with actor Palo convincing playing the ingenue, all except for his broad shoulders and prominent hairy chest threatening to give him away… but then again, this is Finland.

To be frank, I see so much nudity in modern-day Finland that it is difficult to take the jeopardy in this film as anything but manufactured. When my neighbours have proclaimed Topless Thursdays down by the lakeside near my house, and there are more baps on show than a Burger King assembly line, the fact that Paavo and Aarne haven’t got any pants on doesn’t feel all that much of a big issue. Like many other Finnish farces of the period, Dressed Like Adam relies on unconvincing slapstick and misunderstandings that could reasonably be dispelled by people simply having a conversation. Before long, all three men are incarcerated on suspicion of being Vikström, singing at each other in jail while Alli roams the countryside in search of the real criminal, who has, of course, got into their boat and made himself ill drinking a bottle of something he thought was moonshine.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of genuine humour, such as Paavo introducing himself to Vikström in the forest, standing to attention and reciting his name and division within the Jyväskylä Regiment, but with his cock plainly waving in Vikström’s face. High-jinks inevitably ensue, with Aarne falling for Alli, who remains blissfully and somewhat worryingly unaware that he is a man – compare to similar gender-bending in the earlier The Man from Sysmä. By the time Alli was crawling into bed next to Aarne for an all-girls-together slumber party, and then demonstrating her exercises scandalously and boobily in the nude, I was tittering away like a 1940s Finn, and unexpectedly warming to a script from an author whose work I usually find about as welcome as a prostate exam. Possibly, the victory here does not belong to Agapetus, but to Nisse Hirn, the screenwriter who adapted his novel. Hirn was also responsible for The Man from Sysmä and The Bachelor Patron, but at this point in his career, his greatest works were still ahead of him.

Extra points awarded for Alli’s pert nipples, which manage to be prominently on display even when she is wearing clothes again, poking through her summer dress. I guess that’s why actress Sipälä got top billing, even though the film’s triumph, among audiences and critics, was Palo’s prolonged and often convincing experiment with what constitutes femininity in 1940s society.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. He is watching all the Finnish films, so you don’t have to.

The Heir of Tottisalmi (1940)

Baron von Sumers (Paavo Jännes) is worried about his legacy. His grandson Klaus (Kalevi Koski) is displaying oddly violent and aggressive tendencies, and seems to have little sense of his obligation to be kind to his underlings, staff and servants. Fretting that Klaus needs to be taught about noblesse oblige before it is too late, the Baron tries to arrange for him to visit a local pastor’s family, where Klaus predictably acts like an entitled dick, and fights with the pastor’s boy Yrjö (Raino Hämälainen). But Yrjö isn’t the pastor’s son, he is the pastor’s ward, whose past increasingly obsesses the Baron.

Klaus is the child of the Baron’s daughter. But the Baron had a son, who was cast out and disowned twenty years earlier over a misunderstanding. Could it be that Yrjö is the Baron’s long-lost grandson, sired by the son in exile, and hence, technically, the true heir of Tottisalmi?

Well, yes, he is, but not if the scheming locals have anything to do with it. The Baron’s horrible son-in-law Frederik (Sasu Haapanen) is the guilty party who framed the heir all those years ago, now fretting that his machinations will be found out. Apparently unaware that the best thing to do when stuck in a hole is to stop digging, he instead enlists his servant Jonas (Hugo Hytönen) in a scam to frame Yrjö as a thief, before the bright and sunny boy wins over any other members of the family.

Not unlike the same season’s The Tenant Farmer’s Girl from rival studio Suomen Filmiteollisus, this Suomi-Filmi production displays all the signs of a company scrabbling for something to offer comfort under austerity conditions. Turning aside from the miseries of contemporary life, director Orvo Saarikivi instead delivers a slice of old-world aristocracy, itself deriving from Anni Swan’s 1914 children’s novel, featuring the producer’s ten-year-old daughter, Tuulikki Schreck in one of the lead roles, and even using the Schreck family’s home and furniture. Originally intended as a Christmas film in 1939, but postponed by the Winter War until it shuffled out in April 1940 to widespread indifference, it took several years to earn back its production costs, despite really obvious corner-cutting, such as a running time of a mere 66 minutes, and that’s with a 90-second opening overture that plays over an entirely blank screen.

Again, as with The Tenant Farmer’s Girl, the transplant of a 19th-century story to a 20th-century setting only serves to accentuate the vast gaps in culture and expectations in the intervening period. In particular, the fact that the original story called for Yrjö’s father to die in the Battle of Navarino, during the Greek War of Independence in 1827. This explains how he ends up to have a posthumous son, born to a Greek woman six months later, and why a bunch of Greeks (Turo Kartto and Evald Turho, wearing fezzes because fezzes are cool) descend upon Tottisalmi to lend weight to Yrjö’s claim and, ultimately, spirit him back home to his mother in the Aegean. Presumably, von Sumers junior has been reimagined as some sort of volunteer in the First World War, but that would have just meant he dodged any involvement in the revolution and Finnish Civil War back home, and would hardly have endeared him to older viewers.

Little was written about it in a Finland still recovering from the Winter War, and by the time it appeared on television in 1975, the world had changed even more. “This is a film that has had its day,” wrote Mauri Taviola in the Helsingin Sanomat. “The children bang briskly through their lines like they are reciting verse at a six-year old’s birthday party, but you can hardly call it acting.”

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland.  He is watching all the Finnish films so you don’t have to.

SF Parade (1940)

Taxi driver Tanu (Tauno Palo) is in love with Ansa (Ansa Ikonen), but she is suffering the unwelcome attentions of her tour-bus driver Jopi (Joel Rinne). After she rebuffs Jopi’s handsy molestations, Jopi feigns ignorance of the bracelet she is wearing – she had told him that it was lost property awaiting return to its owner, but he allows her boss Mr Anger (Kaarlo Angerkoski) to believe that she has stolen the bracelet from a tourist. Fired from her dream job, Ansa ends up working back in her mother’s kiosk, where she slowly warms to the earnest and similarly hard-up Tanu.

With a plot that could have been written on the back of a beermat, a title that might as well have been Finnish Film Company Film, and a cast that doesn’t even bother to come up with names for their characters, SF-Paraati is an odd confection, shot during the summer of 1939, but mothballed for a year as the Finns were plunged into the Winter War. Although surely beaten to the punch by The Two Vihtors (1939), it was intended as “Finland’s first musical film” by writer Tapio Piha – a plot as a thin excuse for a “revue”, cramming as many songs as possible into the narrative, and utilising the regular players of the Suomen Filmiteollisuus studio. Piha was so sure of who he wanted for most of the roles that he wrote in the real actors’ names as place-holders, most of which survived into the film’s final cut. The original title, however, Helsinki Sings, was changed at the last moment.

It was released in May 1940, after the Finns had fought the Russians to a standstill in Karelia, and signed away a huge chunk of their borderlands. This unexpected development adds a particular note of pathos to the film’s subplot, which Toppo (Toppo Elonpëra}, a Finn from the Russian side of the border, arrives in town in search of his missing brother Aku (Aku Korhonen). The film is also the last appearance for Kaarlo Angerkoski, who died shortly after his shots were completed, and for teenage tap-dancer Jacob Furman, who would leave cinema behind and go on to become a jazz drummer (he does, in fact, also sneak into the same year’s Lapatossu & Vinski’s Department Store, although he is credited there as Jaakko Vuormaa).

Owing much to the let’s-do-the-show-right-here attitude of the US hit Footlight Parade (1933, released in Finland under the title of Shanghai Lil) SF-Paraati was planned as an international film to wow visitors and would-be visitors for the Helsinki Olympics, scheduled for 1940 but cancelled because of WW2. Much is made of the multinational flags adorning the boulevard in Central Helsinki, with the Nazi swastika given pride of place, and Ansa Ikonen effortlessly switches between English and German as she tells her tourist clients that she will show them “the capital of Finland” – although if they hadn’t worked out where they were by the time they were on a bus in the centre of town, I’d say they were past helping.

For the first five minutes we are treated to Ansa’s bus tour of the Helsinki sights, including Kaivopuisto, the statue of Mänttä, and the Kappeli esplanade, where kiosk owner Siiri Angerkoski (suddenly and shockingly white-haired) and florist Aku Korhonen dance like a pair of bell-ends to a military marching band. We see the street that would soon be renamed Mannerheimintie, and even the 1931 parliament building, which is apparently the “most up-to-date parliament in the world.”

But this is all set dressing for the musical plot of the film, as Tanu and Ansa become known throughout Helsinki for their self-penned duet, “The Song of Love.” They briefly fall out when they argue over how the music should be locked down, leading to a live stand-off between two rival orchestras, with Tanu conducting the boys on brass, and Ansa conducting the girls on strings, and the whole song turning into a garbage fire. They are, of course, both ultimately proved right, with their variant tunes functioning as point and counter-point when they are eventually forced to sing them both together.

For a film that makes such a big deal of music, the visuals are oddly ignorant of how music actually works. As in the earlier Red Trousers (1939), footage of marching bands show soldiers excitably banging drums that are making no sound, while Tanu is somehow able to stop playing his saxophone in the middle of a number without any noticeable change to the tune when he does so. But Tanu and Ansa are made for each other, since both of them are obsessed with songs, singing snatches at each other as if they are in a Baz Luhrmann musical, not out of any evasion of copyright, but because they are trying to come up with the hit of swinging Helsinki for the summer.

SF-Paraati is a sweetly endearing film. It is truly remarkable how little central Helsinki has changed in the last eighty years, and the grungy focus-pulling, which is often a few seconds behind the action, makes the whole thing seem as if it was snatched on the run. Much of the music is diegetically convincing – we see Tanu putting his song together in pieces, and then see it as it spreads like a meme through the population, sung at first at an outdoor piano near Ansa’s kiosk, and then picked up all over Helsinki, heedless of the class divide, sung by mothers to their babies, and secretaries in a typing pool, before getting the big band treatment at a dance hall. In a moment of meta comedy, Tanu is chewed out by the police commissioner for writing songs instead of doing his job, although you had to know that the commissioner is played by the film’s composer, Georg Malmsten, to understand why this is funny.

Inevitably, the film ends with big song-and-dance number, prolonged for two or three minutes, it seems, solely so that the pretty violinists can dance around in their underwear to take the film over the line to feature-length. Ansa and Tanu kiss and make up, their song is a big success, and their friends and family cheer them on from the audience. The Karelian brothers Aku and Toppo are also finally reunited, but in a feature of the film’s outdoor-broadcast quality, they drift in and out of focus and their dialogue stumbles over itself, as if not only their joy and surprise is real, but so, too is the unreadiness of the cameraman, who has had to scramble to capture a moment that is spontaneous and unexpected.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. He is watching all the Finnish films, so you don’t have to.

Finns Find the Orient

Finland’s first Chinese restaurant opened inside the spy-infested Hotel Torni in Helsinki in 1953. With characteristic Nordic bluntness, the restaurant was called simply “China.” There, claims food historian Ritva Kylli, visitors “eagerly tasted Chinese flavours and practised how to use chopsticks.” By the end of the 1950s, some Chinese influences had crept into Finnish cooking, including restaurants with wax tablecloths, and the usual utensils of Finnish eating – plates and forks and what-have-you, haunted by the presence of a bottle of soy sauce and a jar of chili oil.

“Dishes from the Torni,” she writes, “became familiar in the Finnish home kitchen, most often chop suey, which was known to have been developed in San Francisco, and become known all around the world as a classic dish of Chinese cuisine – everywhere except China.”

Chinese food is but a sidebar in Kylli’s exhaustive Food History of Finland: From Salted Meat to Sushi [Suomen Ruokahistoria: Suolalihasta sushiin], recently published in Finnish. In it, she charts the development of a national cuisine that has been famously pilloried by other nations – most famously, according to one well-known French politician, the second-worst in the world, after British food. She takes the Finnish palate from its early, bland fumblings with rye bread and dairy products (“Our Finnish cheeses are much praised,” claimed Daniel Juslenius in the 1700s, without a shred of proof), through the introduction of Russian foodways and French bistros, the impact of Prohibition in the 1920s, wartime austerity and the turnabouts of the modern world.

As her title implies, she finishes with another oriental foodstuff, at least nominally. Finns were certainly aware of Japanese food early on – she includes a letter from a baffled diner in Hakodate in north Japan, trying to come to terms with chopsticks and drinking soup from the bowl in the 1920s. But it’s not until 1978 that Kylli uncovers an advert in a Helsinki newspaper for a place calling itself the Yokohama restaurant. Although Kylli tracks a strong upward curve in Japanese food in Finland over the next few decades, it is not really until the 2010s that sushi has become a nationwide phenomenon outside Helsinki, and not because of the Japanese, but the Chinese and the Thais.

Most of the “Japanese” restaurants in Finland are run by Chinese and Thais, ever-ready to exploit the likelihood that Finnish men are sure to stock up on rice and stodge, but Finnish women will jump at the opportunity for a sort of salad that’s also a sort of lunch. For some reason, accountants and the Finnish tax office seem to smile upon “cold” lunches as a tax-deductible expense, further incentivising a bit of fish that hasn’t actually been cooked.

Kylli’s 500-page epic history of food is meticulously referenced and wonderfully detailed, and understandably shies away from the prospect that some Finns might be their own worst enemies when it comes to gastronomy. Once in a Helsinki restaurant that would probably prefer to be unidentified, my recurring inability to remember the word in Finnish for “bowl” led me to switch into Mandarin, and for the manager to suddenly snatch away my plate.

“Oh no!” he said, “Let me make you the good stuff. The buffet’s just the crap we serve the Finns!”

Jonathan Clements is the author of The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals. A Food History of Finland: From Salted Meat to Sushi is published in Finnish by Gaudeamus.

The Tenant Farmer’s Girl (1940)

Siiri Angerkoski and Aku Korhonen are angry parents berating their daughter Helga (Regina Linnanheimo) for having a child out of wedlock. But she drops her case against Pekka (Joel Rinne), the father of her child, in order to spare him the pain of perjuring herself, leading a local family to take pity on her and hire her as a housemaid.

Helga becomes a witness to the goings on at the home of a well-to-do household, where heiress Hildur (Ester Toivonen) is due to be married to local boy Mauri (Tauno Palo). When Mauri comes to believe that he has drunkenly murdered someone (we’ve all been there), his confession causes his betrothed to reject him, only for Helga to turn up with evidence that acquits him. By that point, Mauri has decided that Helga is the girl for him – her insanely high standards of piety and righteousness trump any physical attractions of the radiant Hildur, and the two of them are married.

The opening credits boast that the film is based on Selma Lagerlöf’s “world-famous” story, presumably because earlier Swedish-language adaptations of her novella were shown in the United States. Lagerlöf was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1909), but this forgettable melodrama was surely one of her minor works. We have to view it through a series of filters – a story written originally from a Swedish perspective now dragged into a Finnish world; a story dating from 1908, suddenly forced into entertaining us in May 1940. Even at the time of its Finnish release, the press was dismissive of an old-fashioned tale about old-fashioned mores when Finns had other issues to deal with. “Particularly at a time like this,” commented Paula Talaskivi in the Helsingin Sanomat, “it’s difficult to get invested in the atmosphere required by a romantic love story.” The provincial press was more forgiving, with several reviewers commenting that a tale of simpler times was a welcome diversion.

Linnanheimo is a miserable protagonist, grizzling in the woodshed about her predicament, while the film has presumably been cranked out under understandably austere conditions – it’s shot on a limited number of sets, with exteriors largely limited to what appears to be someone’s backyard in a forest somewhere, presumably shot in the summer of 1939. Anything else interesting arrives as reported speech, read out of a newspaper at dinner or otherwise happening off-screen.

In something of a new direction for Ester Toivonen, she only appears to be the romantic lead. In fact, her character Hildur is destined to reject Mauri, thereby becoming a bit of a heel. We see her fretting at the dining table, surrounded by gossiping old wives, her wedding crown set tantalisingly before her. In this role, Toivonen becomes oddly beguiling, discovering perhaps that she enjoys being a disdainful posh girl more than she ever liked being the ingénue. At the end, it’s Hildur who drives Mauri to meet Helga on the road, where he proclaims his love for her, and the two of them rub cheeks like robots trying to attach their facial SCART leads. As Helga getting her happy ending, Linnanheimo tries to smile, but she looks like she is trying to thoughtfully pass a gallstone.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. He is watching all the Finnish films, so you don’t have to.