Aunt Eulalia (1940)

In the sleepy seaside town of Tukkilahti (Uusikaupunki here in exteriors), local banker Mauri (Eino Jurkka) is so busy that he has three back-to-back meetings in the evening, and no time to even stop to consider the marriage proposal from local law student Eino (Onni Korhonen) to his daughter Kyllikki (the vivacious Tuire Orri). That’s fine because neither me, nor you, nor cast, nor crew seem to care either, and the gormless young-lovers subplot is largely ignored in favour of a series of comedy capers.

Mauri and his friend Roger (Arvo Lehesmaa) are packed off to Helsinki on business, ostensibly so that local rivals can manufacture a means of ensuring their dismissal. In fact, they are intent on tracking down “Aunt Eulalia”, a wealthy widow whom they believe to be the custodian of a large inheritance for them. However, Eulalia (Birgit Kronström) turns out not to be the daffy old lady the men were expecting, but an attractive young woman who sings raunchy songs in nightclubs, and has already remarried a wealthy doctor, thereby confusing the legal standing of her late husband’s will.

A series of manufactured misunderstandings soon ensue, with Mauri’s trustworthiness called into question and the mistaken belief that someone has kidnapped someone’s cat, culminating in a hot-headed council meeting in which Tukkilahti shop stewards demand Mauri’s resignation, only for the overlooked Eino to deliver an impassioned speech in his defence.  Mauri realises that Eino is ideal son-in-law material (albeit rubbish at pretending to play the piano, I will observe), Eulalia reveals that she has ten thousand marks each set aside for Mauri and Roger, and Roger’s long-suffering wife Edla (director Eino Jurkka’s wife Emmi) comments that none of this would have happened in the first place if the men had just listened to their womenfolk – a sentence that functions as both a plot synopsis and a review.

The Finnish press was more forgiving, thrilling to the adaptation of the original 1929 play by Hjalmar Nortimo, and praising the Sampo-Filmi production team for integrating many of the songs from the original with a bunch of sea-shanties and variety pieces. Reading between the lines of the reviews in Helsingin Sanomat and Uusi Suomi, everybody loved the original play so much that a cinema version would have to be terrible indeed to get a bad notice – the sole complaints, that Aunt Eulalia wasn’t in it enough (this is true – the film is halfway done before they get to the Helsinki trip) and that the script flagged a bit in places, pointedly single out some of the only elements changed for the movie version. On the subject of which, Suomi-Filmi’s Ilmari Unho again penned this one under a pseudonym as he had done with Kalle Kollola, Cavalryman (1939), but rather gave the game away by writing on Suomi-Filmi headed paper. Don’t ever let that boy write a detective drama!

One also suspects that there was something about Nortimo’s original satire of small-town concerns that people who’d moved to the big cities could feel superior about, and ten years after the original play, that was almost everybody! Damning with faint praise, the student paper Ylioppilaslehti commented that “by the middle, you don’t want to leave.” By the middle, I was shouting at them to get on with it, but then again, when they do get to Helsinki we are treated to a bizarre Tarzan-and-Jane dance sequence, a teenage ballet recital and Eulalia’s singing, all as part of the “variety” sequence at her night-club.

Truth be told, at the time of the November 1940 premiere of this film, it had been a while that the Finnish cinema had seen such an obvious adaptation of a repertory-theatre farce for the screen (compare to All Kinds of Guests and For the Money), so perhaps there was a hope among critics that audiences were ready for it. Ironically, however takings were only mediocre in Helsinki, and slightly better than average in the provinces. As a result, despite such widespread praise, this second feature film from the Sampo-Filmi company was its last. Sampo-Filmi would make a handful of shorts over the next few years, but hereafter only shows up on databases as a distributor for foreign movies, in which capacity it continued to function into the 1960s.

Seen with 21st century hindsight, Aunt Eulalia is most memorable for the brief opening glimpses it offers of 1940s Uusikaupunki, majestic ships in the harbour, and unpaved streets still spattered with horse manure, wooden single-storey shops, with modest signs put up in the days before marketing.

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

Did Emma Laugh at the Sergeant? (1940)

In this pointlessly convoluted farce, company director Tobias (Uuno Laakso) tries in vain to persuade tailor and officer reservist Hesekiel (Reino Valkama) to sell him his property so that he can expand his factory. Meanwhile, at the garrison, the impossibly handsome Lieutenant Raimo (played by the impossibly handsome Kullervo Kalske) wants to marry the colonel’s daughter Helvi (Lea Joutseno), but her mother will have none of it, because she wants Emma to marry a poet, not a military man. In a vain attempt to win over the impossible lady, Raimo commissions his adjutant Asko (Oiva Sala) to knock up some terrible poetry, and to keep bombarding her with it until she admits Raimo is a better bet.

Meanwhile… look, everything’s “meanwhile” in this film, everything happens at once and while it is all sort of tied up with a bow like a well-greased episode of Seinfeld, there are an incredible number of moving parts and childhood associations, and somehow Tobias’s medical records are mixed up with someone else, and he ends up conscripted into the military, where the only person who can save his bacon is the very same tailor he has been harassing, who happens to be an old friend of Raimo. Amidst all this, the colonel’s maid Emma (Irja Rannikko) apparently laughs at something, which seems an odd thing to hang the whole film on.

Based on a 1939 novel of the same name by “A.V. Multia” (in fact, serving military officer Akseli Viljasalo), this baffling film is a return to the barracks larks of Cavalryman Kalle Kollola (1938) and The Red Trousers (1939). Critics were unimpressed, shrugging off something that they regarded as old hat, and not much in a mood to laugh at a soldier’s life so soon after a war. It was, however, lapped up by Finnish audiences, presumably now almost universally close to matters military, and happy to see it all treated so lightly.

In the closing scene, in a parody of military protocol, the colonel orders Raimo to stand to attention, face left and then kiss his daughter, which is all very well, but surely audiences of the time will remember seeing the same joke in The Regiment’s Tribulation (1938)?

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.

Anu and Mikko (1940)

Orphaned Karelian girl Anu (Henny Valjus) is reluctant to follow through on her late mother’s promise that she will marry the nice-but-dim rich boy Junu (Reino Valkama). Instead, she has eyes only for the handsome carpenter Mikko (Santeri Karilo), even though Mikko backs off in the mistaken belief that Anu loves Junu. Mikko runs away to the big scary city of Helsinki, where he hits on the idea of returning home to start a furniture factory – shades here of the woodtastic prospects of Green Gold (1939).

Based on a 1932 play by Kersti Bergroth and subsequently remade with the same title in 1956 and again for TV in 1975, Orvo Saarikivi’s Anu ja Mikko is an initially baffling choice for so many productions. It was shot at Suomi-Filmi’s Munkkisaari studios, but also features a number of exteriors showing off Nurmijärvi in the summer of 1940 – Finnish cinema audiences had almost nothing to chew on for half the year, and then a sudden rash of titles either mothballed during the Winter War or rushed into production that spring. There are also some lovely exteriors of 1940 Helsinki as Mikko gets off the train to seek his fortune, although his exit from the station is rather compromised by the camera’s sudden interest in a woman in a white dress, so much so that Mikko in his dark clothes practically teleports into focus only when she is out of shot. There’s also a lovely moment in which the camera lingers on a tanned cop outside the parliament building, irritably functioning as a human traffic light for the local trams. Both these striking figures in the film appear to be members of the public who happened to be caught by Uno Pihlström’s camera.

There is a certain return of the mixed messages of Bergroth’s earlier Rich Girl, along the lines of “money isn’t everything (BUT IT REALLY HELPS).” We are supposed to believe that Anu and Mikko are made for each other, but that Mikko is only worthy of Anu when he is a humble carpenter. When he tries to better himself by going into business, Anu finds his industrial mind-set off-putting. When his business fails, it’s Junu’s family money that bails him out. Junu finds love with Heti the maid (Anitra Kartro), but would she really have been all that interested in him if he hadn’t been the lord of the manor? Meanwhile, Anu is something of a drip and a wallflower – her most characterful moment in the film is at a dance, where everybody expects her to sing, but she is so heartbroken that she can’t get the words out.

Repeatedly in Anu ja Mikko there is the assertion that there’s no place like home. Mikko leaves for the big city, but returns to his hometown girl and his hometown dreams (whatever they are, since apparently making a living isn’t one of them), as does “American” Mari (Aino Lohikoski), a local girl recently returned from New York, who fills everybody’s heads with tales of international travel, but ends up marrying a local accordion-player. Mari is a fantastically uppity snob in an impractically frilly dress, who insists on using English words and trills excitedly about the talking pictures she has seen (this film is set in the 1930s, when such things would have been more new-fangled).

It is precisely the sort of drama one might expect to find a ready audience after a wartime disruption, gently soothing the viewer that things will soon be back to normal and everyone can go home. Except everyone can’t – author Bergroth was a native of Viipuri and director Saarikivi was born in Sortavala, both now on the Russian side of the border, along with the village of Antrea (now Kamennogorsk), the real-world inspiration for Bergroth’s fictional “Kaunuskala”. Many of the cast members were themselves of Karelian origin, although the degree to which they were refugees is questionable – Viipuri was Finland’s second city, so having been born there was a bit like having been born in Birmingham or Glasgow, hardly a matter of note until the day it was suddenly rebranded as Russian territory.

Paula Talaskivi, the hard-to-please movie critic, was totally taken in, writing in the Ilta Sanomat that even hard-bitten Helsinki urbanites would love the rural, Karelian snapshots of a time past and a land lost. Salama Simonen, the critic for Uusi Suomi, thrilled to the sound of the Karelian accent (something that would also charm viewers of the same year’s Lapatossu & Vinski’s Department Store), singling out Santeri Karilo as a genuine Karelian… all gentle nudges largely lost on the average modern reader, but reminding 1940s Finns that the Winter War has displaced thousands of Karelians, and lost much of the Karelian heartland celebrated in this film. The allusions and evocations of a lost land, which by my ad hoc reckoning, has an immediate family connection for one out of every four modern Finns, is a primary contributor to this story’s enduring presence.

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 King of Poetry and the Migratory Bird (1940)

At the time of its release, Runon kuningas ja muutolintu was the longest-gestating film in Finnish history. Playwright Elsa Soini was commissioned to write the script in 1937, principal photography by Yrjö Norta commenced in 1938, but was delayed by the onset of the Winter War, with the premiere of the film not coming until October 1940 – compare to similar delays besetting The Heir of Tottisalmi and In the Kitchen.

The story spans a crucial decade from 1837 to 1848, beginning with poet J.L. Runeberg’s acceptance of a post teaching Latin literature at a Porvoo college. This inevitably drags him away from the hustle and bustle of life in That Fancy Helsinki, and his wife Frederika (Anni Hämäläinen) frets that his creative genius will wither in the provinces.

A few years later, the young Emilie Björkstén (Ansa Ikonen) moves to Porvoo and soon attracts the wagging tongues of the town gossips, who regard her as trouble because she is a beautiful woman without a squire – “the right jar of syrup to catch flies.” A fan of Runeberg’s poetry, she is drawn to him, and he to her, in a series of will-they-won’t-they, did-they-do-they encounters. Runeberg (Eino Kaipainen) protests that he is a man, not merely a poet, seemingly warning her that her fangirling over him might be misinterpreted by his hindbrain as sexual advances.

Eventually, the two end up snogging, and Emilie’s landlord, the local bishop (Ossi Elstelä) accuses her of “tarnishing the poet’s crown.” Brow-beaten into staying away from him Emilie puts on a brave face, and tells him at their next meeting that she is expecting to be betrothed to her beau Robert (Unto Salminen). But instead of taking this for what it is – a gentle acknowledgement that their love is not to be – Runeberg calls her a temptress and a flirt for stringing him along.

Leo Schulgin in the Helsingin Sanomat thought it was “the best Finnish film yet made”, while the hard-to-impress Paula Talaskivi in Ilta-Sanomat deemed it to be “a pleasant surprise,” praising not only for its choice of subject matter, for its attention to detail and the fact that it was shot in extremely adverse circumstances. These two leading reviewers were echoed by much of the rest of the press, with Uusi Suomi remarking on the loving evocation of mid-19th-century Porvoo. Posterity has been less kind, with more cynical modern commentators regarding it as an entirely unbelievable version of the past, accorded way too much slack by the audiences of the 1940s.

But Runon kuningas ja muutolintu was dogged by controversy from the moment it commenced production, based on Bert Edelfelt’s book Some Old Pages from a Diary (1922, Ur en gammal dagbok). There is a whirlpool of tensions beneath the surface of this film, in which a resolutely Finnish production team celebrates the Swedish-speaking poet who would write Finland’s national anthem, but also reveals that he was a human being with human foibles. On announcing that the film was in production, director Toivo Särkkä was mobbed by a delegation of university lecturers, pleading with him not to besmirch the character of Finland’s national poet. Runeberg was an untouchable demigod of Finnish culture, and to suggest that he might have his head turned by some girl was regarded as sacrilege. I am also tempted to point out that leading man Eino Kaipainen had founded his entire movie career to date on being a Finnish heart-throb that no red-blooded woman could possibly resist, which rather places an unfair pressure on any character obliged to remain immune to his charms.

Our own era has been even more critical of the film, noting that it sets up Runeberg as some pious, dutiful patriot, and his lover as a flighty “migratory bird”, breezing into his life to cause chaos like that uncaring strumpet in The Women of Niskavuori. This, modern critics have argued, is only Runeberg’s film because of what his written work has become to Finns – pity the poor woman whose poetry doesn’t get sung at public occasions decades after she has died in obscurity. But that is precisely what Elsa Soini’s script is driving at through much of the film – the fact that gender and customs and assumptions of the mid-19th-century have doomed posterity to assume that Emilie is a talentless flirt, and Runeberg a tormented poet, when in fact, allowed to interact as equals, they prove to be able and creative collaborators. Runeberg’s own wife dismisses his flirtation with a shrug, Emilie thanks God for helping her “resist temptation”, but buried deep down in all this is an artful consideration of noble sacrifice.

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 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.

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.

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.