(5/10) The first film ever to feature an abominable snowman is a 1954 comedy from Finland, translated as Pekka and the Stump on the snowman’s trail. Loosely based on a comic strip, it features impressive visuals and a first-rate supporting cast, but the awkward and slow-moving script is a strange blend of traditional romcom and broad, blunt “we pull funny faces and fall over”-comedy. Culturally curious as an example of the so-called rillumarei genre.
Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä. Directed by Armand Lohikoski. Written by Reino Helismaa, Armand Lohikoski. Based on characters by Ola Fogelberg. Starring: Esa Pakarinen, Masa Niemi, Siiri Angerkoski, Anneli Sauli, Olavi Virta, Åke Lindman, Tuija Halonen, Vihtori Välimäki. Produced by T.J. Särkkä for Suomen Filmiteollisuus.
IMDb score: 5.6/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
There are rare films and then there are rare films. This one isn’t rare in the sense that it is hard to come by – it’s been released on DVD, and you can buy from online retailers, but in the sense that very few people outside of its country of origin even know that it exists. Fans of snowman films generally credit W. Lee Wilder’s The Snow Creature (1954, review) with being the first snowman film ever made, but in fact Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä (Pekka and the Stump on the snowman’s trail) was released four months prior to the American movie, in July 1954. But even aficionados of monster movies can be forgiven for not knowing about this film. It’s a low-budget slapstick comedy that has never been theatrically released outside of Finland. And Finnish slapstick comedies don’t tend to have much of a cult following anywhere in the world.
This was the third entry in a series of 13 films following the two dimwits Pekka Puupää and Pätkä, names that translate roughly as Billy Blockhead and The Stump. Armand Lohikoski directed all but the first and the last films in the series, and this was the first one that he co-wrote as well. The Pekka and Pätkä movies were originally adapted from a hugely popular comic strip called Pekka Puupää, which followed the mundane life of Pekka Puupää and his ill-tempered wife Justiina. In the comics, Pätkä was a supporting character, but in the films he was gradually lifted up as an equal main character alongside Pekka, and this movie was the first in which both of them were named in the title. Apart from the appearances and names of the main characters, the movies in general had very little to do with the comic strips, and as the strips tended to consist of six frames ending in a pun or punchline, often with little interconnection, they would have been difficult to create movies out of. Instead the films were modelled on the Abbot & Costello formula, whereby the two main characters were put in new circumstances in every film. In the case of Pekka and Pätkä, the formula was that they tried out new professions in every movie, such as Foreign Legion Soldiers, policemen or firemen. This movie, though, breaks from the formula in the sense that the two friends don’t actually try out a new profession, but instead travel from Helsinki to Lapland in search of the abominable snowman. The duo of Pekka and Pätkä were played by Esa Pakarinen and Masa Niemi in all 13 films, and over time they more or less became the Abbot & Costello of Finland.
The plot opens on April Fool’s Day in Helsinki. Pekka Puupää (Esa Pakarinen) is alseep for the fifth day in a row in his apartment, which seems to be on the fifth floor of an apartment building, and his stern wife Justiina is just about to return from her holiday in the country. Pätkä (Masa Niemi) knows that Pekka ought to clean the apartment before Justiina gets home, or there’ll be hell to pay, but he fails to wake him up, even though he bangs on the front door until the plaster starts falling off the ceiling. In desperation, Pätkä decides to climb the drain-pipe and enter through the open window, and by some miracle manages to wake Pekka, but Pekka tricks Pätkä into cleaning the apartment while he takes a nap. Pätkä cleans so effectively, and even waters the flowers, that when Justiina (Siiri Angerkoski) gets home, all is spick and span, but Pätkä, exhausted, has fallen asleep against the broom.
Immediately Justiina starts bossing Pekka around, ordering him to go shopping. When Pekka has trouble remembering if he was supposed to buy three litres of cream and one box of cookies, or three boxes of cookies and one litre of cream, she writes him a shopping list. Pätkä, having snuck out with today’s paper, awaits in the street, but Pekka has problems reading Justiina’s hand-writing. Pätkä takes a look at the note: ”skis”. But what on Earth would Justiina want with skis? It’s April, and the only place you’ll find snow this time of year is in Lapland! But Pätkä, reading the newspaper, finds the answer: A snowman has been sighted in Kilpisjärvi, Lapland, and the famous radio personality Karvajärvi has promised one million marks to the person who can catch the snowman and bring him to Helsinki. So, the fellas figure, Justiina has read the paper, and wants them to buy skis for a snowman hunt in Lapland. Said and done, the boys are off to the store to buy not only skis, but snows shoes, ropes, grappling hooks, the whole shebang!
Upon their return Justiina is mighty angered – she never ordered Pekka to buy skis! ”But it says ‘skis’ here right on the shopping list”, Pekka argues. Pekka, you idiot, says Justiina – I didn’t write SUKSET (Finnish for ”skis”), but SAKSET (Finnish for ”scissors”). But as Pekka and Pätkä show her the newspaper article, even Justiina gets excited, and even more so when they want her to come along on the expedition, which is unusual, since they mostly do their best to get away from her. But unbeknownst to her, they have a shrewd plan – since everybody knows that snowmen kidnap women, they plan to use Justiina as bait.
We then follow the trio as they travel by train to Lapland, and bump into an old friend, Timo Vaski (Olavi Virta), on his way to the same destination, where his girlfriend is waiting. However, on the train Timo has caught the eye of the beautiful brunette Katriina Sirkkunen (Anneli Sauli), and Pekka and Pätkä, with their loose tongues, obviously can’t resist telling Timo’s girlfriend Irmeli Laavu (Tuija Halonen) about the perceived chemistry between Timo and his cute travelling companion. But it’s not like Irmeli has been sitting idly by during her stay in Lapland, either, as she seems to be quite friendly with the handsome skiing instructor Riku Sundman (Åke Lindman). In fact, most of the middle part of the film is then taken over by the love rectangle between these four people. There’s some kissing in the ski lodge, and schlager singer Olavi Virta gets the chance to sing a couple of ballads.
The focus on the love games continue as the group sets out on a skiing trip in the mountains of Lapland, interspersed with lots of slapstick and physical comedy on skis by our intrepid trio of main characters. After a few failed attempts, lots and lots of end-over falling in the snow, and so on and so forth, they finally manage to lure out the snowman with the help of Justiina’s generously applied perfume. However, instead of catching the beast, Pekka and Pätkä faint in horror. The robust Justiina is not the one to faint, as a matter of fact she is quite receptive to the handsome, hairy hunk’s amorous proposals, and happily hops on her skis to follow him towards the horizon. As Pekka and Pätkä come to, and realise that Justiina is gone, they assume that she has been eaten. Heartbroken, they return to the ski lodge, where they find quite a surprise: Justiina kissing the snowman in their room! Not only that, she has taught him to perform a number of chores, like shining shoes and untangling yarn. Overjoyed, the three then drug the snowman and wrap him in a rug, and take him back to Helsinki.
Upon their return the two guys leave the tied-up snowman in Pekka’s apartment with Justiina, as they go to meet Karvajärvi to collect their one million mark reward. But alas! Karvajärvi laughs and tells them it was all an April Fool’s Day joke! There’s no snowman in Lapland! But he jokingly promises to pay out a reward if they can actually produce a living snowman on his show The Evening Sauna. Meanwhile Justiina has unwrapped the snowman, as she needs more chores to be done around the house. The snowman has quickly learned what Pekka has years ago, which is that the love of a woman burns hot but fast, and when the amorous flame is gone, she will do nothing but boss you around the house. He tries to escape through the window, only to be stopped by the matron of the apartment.
When Pekka and Pätkä return to their home, they find Justiina is gone and the snowman is neatly wrapped inside the rug. So they haul the package off to Karvajärvi’s show, where the audience eagerly awaits the unveiling of the snowman. But alas! Inside the rug they find Justiina, who’s been wrapped up by the snowman. The last shot of the movie shows the snowman walking toward the sunset in the Lapland mountains.
The origins of Pekka and Pätkä lie in the comic strip Pekka Puupää, created by Swedish-speaking Finn Ola Fogelberg, originally under the pseudonym Fogeli, in 1925. After his death in 1952, his work was continued by his daughter Toto Fogelberg-Kaila, who created new strips all the way to 1975, making Pekka Puupää the longest running Finnish comic in history. The strips appeared in the widely circulated magazines of the Progressive Consumer’s Co-operative Elanto, one of the largest organisations for consumer-owned grocery stores, shops and retailers, with connections to the socialist movement. Originally the comic was more of an inside joke, describing the trials and tribulations of a young man from the countryside moving to the Finnish capital of Helsinki to work in Elanto’s marketing department. The strips were often more or less propaganda for the consumers co-operatives, as in one famous strip where Pekka gets beaten by his wife for shopping at the nearer, privately owned, grocery store to avoid the rain, instead of walking the extra distance to the consumer-owned store. However, in the thirties Fogelberg moved Pekka to a fictional rural town, and the comic became more of a general humorous comic strip, dealing with different mundane and domestic situations. In the strips, the often unemployed Pekka would sometimes try and fail to cope in different professions, giving the filmmakers their angle for how to make the Pekka and Pätkä films.
In 1927 Fogelberg made a cut-out animation film about Pekka Puupää, which was actually screened in the US, but has since been lost. Several anthologies have been published, and since 1972, the Finnish Comic Book Society has annually been honouring the Finland’s foremost comic artist with the Puupää Hat, named after Pekka Puupää.
However: the real origins of the Pekka and Pätkä films lie in the so-called Rillumarei films produced in the early fifties. ”Rillumarei” is a meaningless word akin to ”cha-la-la” or ”doo-bee-doo”, taken from a song from the 1951 musical comedy film Rovaniemen markkinoilla (In the market of Rovaniemi), that has in retrospect been used to describe a musical style popular in Finland after WWII until the beginning of the sixties. Based on the pre-war couplet tradition, rillumarei was a folksy style of music, often humorous in nature, and often accompanied by accordion, piano or a small orchestra. The texts tended to contain broad, lewd, comedy, and could comment on current affairs or phenomenons, or tell funny stories about drinking, relationships or mundane situations that would be easily relatable to a working class audience. The genre was immensely popular with the working and lower classes of Finland, but frowned upon (at least publicly) by the upper class and the culture elite, including the critics.
Two of the most successful rillumarei songwriters and artists were Reino Helismaa and Esa Pakarinen, and in 1951 director Toivo Särkkä suggested making a series of films based on a collaboration between them and a few other rillumarei artists. The films often had parallel plots, one romantic and one comedic, filled with broad slapstick and verbal humour, and lots of rillumarei songs. Esa Pakarinen, who didn’t really have any acting experience, was chosen to star in the first rillumarei film, the above mentioned Rovaniemen markkinoilla, and it was such a hit that he instantly became the defining star of the genre, going on to play the lead in half a dozen early rillumarei movies, often as the same character, Severi Suhonen. The films were loved by the public, but crushed by the critics. The film company Suomen Filimiteollisuus (SF) and the writers, songwriters, producers and directors were called out in the press for corrupting the youth and destroying Finnish taste in music.
Olavi Veistäjä wrote in the newspaper Aamulehti about Rovaniemen markkinoilla: ”It is hopeless, and a waste of both paper and printing ink, to try and analyse the film in any depth”. In the paper Suomen Sosialidemokraatti Eugen Terttula titled his review ”Filth is Filth”. He wrote: ”Writing about the film called Rovaniemen markkinoilla is not a job suited for a film critic. It is clearly made by dilettantes”. As a reply to the haters in the press, Reino Helismaa and Toivo Kärki (main composers and lyricists of the rillumarei films) wrote a song inspired by the comic strip character Pekka Puupää, and Esa Pakarinen recorded it in 1952. Out of this collaboration came the idea to make films about the popular character.
Soon after comic artist Ola Fogelberg’s passing, SF chief T.J. Särkkä approached his widow Laura Fogelberg about the rights to the character, which she sold for 50 000 marks, which at the time wasn’t a very large sum because of the high inflation in Finland. Apparently Särkkä misled Fogelberg: the original oral agreement had been for one film, but when the actual contract was signed, it stated that Fogelberg gave SF the eternal right to use the characters in their films – and apparently she didn’t read the contract before signing. The case later went to court, but it stated that the signed contract was valid, regardless of what had been agreed in previous discussions.
Esa Pakarinen, the star of the rillumarei movies, was the natural choice for playing the titular character, and as Pätkä – The Stump – the studio chose multi-talented comedic, vaudeville artist and musician Masa Niemi, who had already teamed up with Pakarinen in Lentävä kalakukko (The flying fish pie) in 1952. The third main character, Pekka’s stern wife Justiina, was played by character actress Siiri Angerkoski. The first film, entitled simply Pekka Puupää, was released in 1953, and was directed by Ville Salminen, who hated it. For the second movie SF approached Armand Lohikoski, who had just joined the company. Lohikoski had previously had a long career at the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, the Finnish equivalent of the BBC, where he is famed for introducing the first radio game show in 1941. He also founded Finland’s first free urban newspapers, akin to the Metro paper of today, and before moving to SF film, he had worked as the head of the Finnish wing of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Lohikoski didn’t like the script for the second Pekka Puupää film, so when Helismaa approached him with the script for the third movie, he, according to his own words, threw it away and wrote the snowman movie of this article. Helismaa is still credited as the second screenwriter, and there’s some confusion over whether he did actually write a first draft of the film or not. However, some later critics claim that there are clear signs of Helismaa’s handiwork in the movie: for example a fat guy asking when lunch is served is typical of Helismaa’s sense of humour. The idea for the snowman film apparently came from a newspaper article about the famous Yeti expedition to the Himalayas arranged by The Daily Mail in 1954.
Of course, as the critics had already labelled the team of filmmakers as dilettantes and producers of filth, it hardly mattered to them if the Pekka and Pätkä films were any good – they were basically the same sort of rillumarei comedies as the previous films, but with slightly less singing. The critics blamed the films for being ”splapdash”, which hurt Lohikoski, who was actually putting a lot of effort into the visuals of the movies, despite the tight shooting schedules and pressure from the producers. To silence the critics, he actually invited them to the set to observe the filming, but none showed up.
And that’s something one has to say about these movies – at least if Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä is anything to go by – the visuals of the film stand head and shoulders above many US Poverty Row films made at the same time. When many American low-budget directors were satisfied with setting up a wide shot, placing the actors around a table and have them say their lines, Lohikoski actually tells a story through camera work and images. In one scene we’re introduced to the ladies on a sewing committee by having the camera focus solely on their cups as Justiina pours them coffee. The camera follows the the snout or the pot from one cup to the nest and at each pause the lady whose cup is filled says a line. Beautiful work! In other instances Lohikoski wildly swings the camera around, for example in the scene where we are introduced to the mess in Pekka’s apartment in the beginning of the movie. Lohikoski uses bold one-shot zooms in a Hitchcockian manner, and clever editing to reveal surprises. The visual comedy is the one that works best in this movie, and compensates for the lame puns and the contrived slapstick which mainly consists of people falling over.
One of the best scenes in terms of visuals in the film is where Pätkä climbs the drain-pipe. Lohikoski had art director Aarre Koivisto build a one-to-one replica of the outer wall of the house horizontally on the floor of the SF studio, and Masa Niemi is actually crawling along the drain-pipe and not climbing it. The trick is as old as cinema itself (see A Trip to Jupiter, 1909, review), but the clever camera angle that Lohikoski uses makes it almost vertigo-inducing, even if Niemi does his best to ruin the illusion by not looking in the least as if he is actually climbing. Lohikoski also excels in his shooting of the breath-taking, snow-covered landscapes of Lapland, easily competing with the stunning Japanese visuals of Ishiro Honda’s 1955 snowman film Ju jin yuki otoko (review). Interestingly, Lohikoski used different cinematographers for interior and exterior shooting, however, it seems that in many cases SF didn’t assign directors of photography as such, but treated the cinematographers simply like cameramen, and left the overall look of the film to the director. Exterior cinematographer Osmo Harkimo knew his job though; later that year he won the top Finnish movie award, the Jussi, for his cinematography in Matti Kassila’s Scarlet Week (1954). In 1956 he received a special Jussi for best editing in the legendary WWII movie The Unknown Soldier (1955), repeatedly voted as best Finnish movie in history by audiences.
Lohikoski’s visual prowess does not mean that Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä is a particularly good movie, though. The biggest problem is the script and the main cast. One critic back in the day complained that the films were marketed as children’s movies although they often contained allusions to sex and ”hawkish, man-hungry women-folk”. While I don’t share the critics fear over sexual innuendos and a bit of skin corrupting the youth, the fact is that Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä seems to have a hard time deciding who its audience is. Half of the film focuses on a very adult-oriented romantic drama, which plays almost as a serious film, with A-class actors, while the rest of the movie consists of the sort of humour you tend to find funny when you are seven years old. The main characters aren’t actors, and what comedic talent they have get buried under under the bad script. Pekka and Pätkä tell each other really bad puns, but their timing is constantly off. They try to create situation comedy by broadly over-reacting to all situations, but it doesn’t help when the situations themselves aren’t particularly funny. Masa Niemi, in his defence, is rather apt at physical slapstick, but unless you’re Buster Keaton or Gösta Ekman, there’s just so many times you can fall on your ass in a movie and still make it funny. And with skis involved, you’re can bet your ass that there’s a lot of falling going on in the film. Esa Pakarinen’s idea of ”funny” is to pull faces and speak in a high-pitched voice with a rural accent the whole film through. Yes, I know I sound like the critics from the fifties, but I can’t help it.
So, this is a comedy that isn’t especially funny for anyone who hasn’t got the humour of a seven-year old (which in itself is fine), and contains a romantic drama which would be dreadfully boring for anyone with the humour of a seven-year old. However, the romantic drama isn’t all that bad, and it is rather well acted. Especially good are Anneli Sauli as the seductive brunette and Åke Lindman as the hunky skiing instructor. Both are amongst the most acclaimed Finnish movie actors of all time. Sauli caused something of a sensation with her sensual performance in the erotically loaded movie The Milkmaid (1953), only her second film, complete with full nudity. Another celebrated performance came in 1957 with the title role in the drama Miriam.
As TV became common in Finland in the sixties, the Finnish movie industry suffered badly, and as roles became sparse, Sauli briefly moved to West Germany, where she made a good dozen films under the pseudonym Ann Savo – the best known are probably the horror movie Dead Eyes over London (1961) and the crime mystery The Wizard (1964). She had the chance to appear alongside future Bond villain Gert Fröbe in the n:th remake of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1962) and former American Tarzan actor Lex Barker in Dr. Sibelius (1962). Interesting for this blog, however, is that Sauli played the female lead in the science fiction movie Zurück aus dem Weltall (1959), which got a theatrical release in the US as Moonwolf, and was loosely based on the Jack London novel White Fang. As her film career dwindled, she found new fame on stage, as she was recruited to the Joensuu City Theatre by legendary demon director Jouko Turkka in 1971. She sporadically appeared in films and TV in the late eighties and early nineties, but again took up film acting in earnest in 1999, when the Finnish movie industry experienced a radical up-turn after almost four decades of stagnation.
International audiences may know Sauli from her role as the bar owner in Aki Kaurismäki’s celebrated The Man Without a Past (2002), which won the won the Grand Prize of the Jury at Cannes, and was nominated for the Palm d’or, and for an Oscar for best foreign film. In 2009 she played the lead in the Finnish drama Heartbeeps, for which she was nominated for a Jussi award. Her latest work (as of 2016) was in a recurring role in a TV series in 2014. In 2013 she was awarded a lifetime achievement Jussi. Sauli was active within the worker’s movement throughout most of her life and a staunch communist. Although most former communists in Finland joined the reformed Left Alliance after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sauli clung to the tiny Communist Party of Finland, for which she ran in the parliamentary elections in 2007 and 2011, with poor results.
Åke Lindman’s long and celebrated career as an actor, director, writer, producer and Olympic football player is too long to do justice here, but suffice to say that this tall athlete played for the Finnish national soccer team in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, but turned down an opportunity to play in the British Premier League to instead focus on acting. Lindman, a Swedish-speaking Finn, had a steely look which quickly typecast him in villainous roles, something which he soon tired of. For the celebrated war movie The Unknown Soldier he tried out for the heroic lead, but still ended up as the villainous lead – but the role brought him a Jussi award for best actor, so it wasn’t all bad. His typecasting led him to try his hand at directing, and after a few stints as assistant director he made his debut in 1961, and looked to make a decent career out of it, until the Finnish movie industry crashed in 1963. As so many others he made his way to TV, and in 1976 he directed his perhaps most important work, the 6-part miniseries Stormskärs Maja. The epic series about a woman’s harsh and arduous life on a small island in the Åland archipelago in the 19th century, with magical music by Lasse Mårtenson, won a Jussi for best TV production and is considered one of the best TV series ever made in Finland. As it is filmed in Swedish, it is also something of a national treasure for the country’s Swedish-speaking minority.
When the Finnish film industry started gaining momentum again in the nineties, Lindman gradually returned to the cinema, both as actor and director, but worked sporadically as he was mainly focused on producing and directing three historical epics; Gold Fever in Lapland (1999), Beyond Enemy Lines (2004) and Tali-Ihantala 1944 (2007). An IMDb review of the last film sums it up as ”A little too ambitious for its budget, script and director”, which is a fair assessment of all of Lindman’s three last directorial efforts, in which he tended to put historical accuracy before drama. Lindman worked in both Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian films, and was one of those rare Finnish actors that were paraded out as the cream of the crop when Hollywood producers came to Finland to film scenes for cold war spy movies. Thus he can be seen in bit-parts in the Michael Caine movie Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Don Siegel’s Oscar-nominated Telefon (1977) and Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning Reds (1981). He also has a part in the mythical, almost never-seen Jerry Lewis movie The Day the Clown Cried (1972). Lewis spent ten years working on the reportedly disturbing and furious Nazi satire, but the film has been caught up in litigation and has never been screened to a paying audience. The few people who have seen it have described it as a masterpiece, and in 2013 Lewis said that the myth around the film has grown to such proportions that it would be almost unfair to the audience to show it now. For a long time Lewis sat on the only print, but he has reportedly donated a copy the the Library of Congress, with an order not to screen it before 2025. Åke Lindman also has a small role alongside Anneli Sauli, to whom he was briefly married, in Moonwolf. In 2003 he appeared in the independent sci-fi film The Book of Fire (Kohtalon kirja), which technically was a straight-to-DVD movie, although it screened at a number of film festivals. He received a lifetime achievement Jussi, the Pro Finlandia Medal and was named a Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Polar Star by the king of Sweden.
Siiri Angerkoski is another legend of Finnish film. Her mother was a so-called angel maker, or performer of abortions in the early 20th century, when such procedures were illegal i Finland. She was jailed for her practice, and fled the US never to return. Siiri Angerkoski became a highly respected theatre actor performing both in spoken plays and operas, and made her film debut in 1933. Working as a stock player for SF for many years, she became one of Finland’s best recognised supporting actresses, and was often seen in comedies, more often than not as maids, stern wives, society ladies or crones. She is best remembered for playing Justiina in all but one of the Pekka and Pätkä movies, although she received not one, but two Jussi awards for her rare serious roles, one as a lead and other as a supporting actress.
Olavi Virta, playing Timo, wasn’t primarily an actor, but a singer and composer, in fact one of Finland’s biggest biggest recording artists in the fifties, specialising in ballads and tangos. His translated version of the Italian tango Guarda che luna, renamed Hopeinen Kuu (Silver Moon) was chosen as the best Finnish schlager of all times by the audience of YLE in 2006, with crushing majority. For an amateur actor, Virta does OK in Pekka ja Pätkä Lumimiehen jäljillä, considering the acting giants he is up against. He appeared in 20 films, almost always in singing parts.
Tuija Halonen is holds up her end without shining in the role as Irmeli. Often cast in rillumarei movies and other comedies, she also acted on stage. With the decline of Finnish film in the early sixties, she did a few TV roles in the early sixties, but her TV and film acting career more or less ended in 1965.
For the crucial role of the snowman, SF put out a call for the tallest men in Finland, and out of 200 applicants, the studio chose the 35-year old welder Vihtori Välimäki, a whopping 206 cm or 6.7 feet tall giant from Helsinki. He wasn’t much of an actor, but in this role he didn’t need to be. As far as the fur is concerned, the snowman costume is actually one of the better ones of the era, resembling the Chewbacca costume. However, the rest of the suit is crappy. The costume is too short, and ends above Välimäki’s ankles, leaving the obviously rubbery feet in full view, looking a bit like divers’ flippers. The long fingers seem to be constructed out of leather, and have almost no dexterity. Like in the latter The Snow Creature, the costume has no face-mask, and Välimäki has to make due with a false beard, a fake nose and a darkened face.
The Pekka and Pätkä film franchise continued its commercial success throughout the fifties, but productions were troubled. Reino Helismaa continued providing scripts for the films, and Armand Lohikoski kept rewriting them, as he saw them as flat, banal and childish. Helismaa also admitted that his humour lay more in wordplay, and that he didn’t master the visual comedy of film. Throughout the film series, the cast and crew grew more and more impatient with Masa Niemi’s alcohol abuse. Niemi also suffered from deep self-esteem issues and depression. Sometimes he would lock himself in his apartment in a drunken stupor for days in the middle of shooting and refuse to speak to anyone even through the front door’s mail slot. Angerkoski couldn’t stand Niemi, and as the years went on, tensions also grew between the two lead actors. In 1959 Lohikoski planned to do the thirteenth Pekka and Pätkä film as a political satire, but producer T.J. Särkkä wouldn’t have it, and fired him, bringing in another director, and reinstated Helismaa as primary screenwriter. The result was Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä (Pekka and the Stump as Niggers [yes, we’ll get to that]). Shortly after the film Masa Niemi committed suicide, which spelled the end for the Pekka and Pätkä franchise, and practically the end of the rillumarei comedies, even if the rillumarei spirit carried through in much later Finnish comedy.
In the early sixties the cultural landscape of Finland was fast changing. TV spread like wildfire, hurting the Finnish movie industry badly, and effectively ending the so-called ”iltama” tradition, where people would gather in community halls to be entertained by live artists. And when rock music swept over the country, performers of old-timey rillumarei couplets were swept away with it. For Esa Pakarinen this was devastating. However, he soldiered on, first with a long tour in America, where he entertained Finnish-American immigrants and their descendants, and later as an entertainer at a national mall chain. And with the seventies attitudes toward rillumarei were slowly changing. Academics were starting to take an interest in the Finnish couplet tradition, and Pakarinen was suddenly invited to perform at prestigious events among the culture elite, which had so deeply despised his art previously. A young generation of rock and folk musicians who grew up with rillumarei also drew much inspiration from the genre, and Pakarinen would record and tour with the immensely popular Irwin Goodman, a folk singer basically carrying on the couplet tradition in a modern form. He partly retired in 1974 due to asthma, but continued to perform sporadically with his stage show, mainly doing his most popular TV characters Pekka Puupää and Severi Suhonen. He also appeared in a few TV shows. In the eighties Pekka Puupää was brought back through a new TV show and two movies, with different actors. The TV show did alright, but the films were seen as travesties on the old movies. Pakarinen passed away in 1989.
Despite their obvious flaws, the old Pekka Puupää movies have undergone a slight re-evaluation in later years. While most agree that the comedy and the scripts still haven’t gotten any better, the visual work of Armand Lohikoski has been noted. It has also been noted that the rillumarei-inspired comedy was a very Finnish brand of culture, and many view the movies today as sort of time capsules from a bygone era. Later critics have also praised the fact that the movies gave a good insight into what Finnish working class life looked like at the time – in the way the characters in the movies dressed and what their apartments looked like. In the fifties Finland was still a fairly poor country recovering from the devastating wars against the Soviet Union, and ordinary people were living sparsely, but movies of the era were often stylised either to look more archaic for national-romantic reasons or to make its characters seem more affluent and trendy, inspired by American films.
One film in the series that has raised eyebrows in latter years when it has been shown on Finnish TV (2012 and 2016) is the above mentioned Pekka ja Pätkä neekereinä (Pekka and the Stump as Niggers). The movie is based on a word-play: Pekka and Pätkä see a professor, whose computer can tell people what profession they are suited for. The machine tells the duo they have a bright future as ”niggers”. In the fifties, however, ”neekeri” (nigger) was common slang for ”journalist”, as journalists were often smeared with fresh printing ink after having proofread newspapers. However, Pekka and Pätkä naturally take it literally, and smear black shoe polish on their faces, and try to get hired at a club as a black American vaudeville duo. This part of the film goes on for a while, before the couple realise that they had misunderstood the machine, and spend the rest of the movie trying to be journalists. Apart from the name, it is especially the blackface that has riled people. The movie isn’t racist in the sense that it explicitly mocks, belittles or makes fun of black people, but rather showcases the attitudes towards black men in the secluded country of Finland in the fifties. One reviewer points out that the word nigger wasn’t considered a racist slur in Finland in the fifties, but the movie ”still displays a casual racism”. In 2016 newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet’s critic Malin Slotte questioned state-funded public service provider YLE’s decision to air a film in which white men wear blackface, and the film caused quite a stir in social media.
Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä has garnered a reputation as the best film of the franchise in later years, and for example elokuvauutiset.fi duly notes Lohikoski’s ”clever visual comedy”. The reviewer also praises Anneli Sauli, and writes that it’s fun to see her in a comedy, even though her character is paper-thin. At writing this, I still haven’t seen Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman (1957), which is reportedly the best of the fifties snowman films, nor Man Beast (1956), which is reportedly one of the worst, but I’d have to say that visually the Pekka and Pätkä film is miles ahead of W. Lee Wilder’s movie The Snow Creature, and when it comes to actual camera work it even surpasses Ishiro Honda’s Ju jin yuki otoko – be it that the Japanese film has better production values and effects, as well as a better script, even if it is hard to compare the two – Honda’s movie is a rather melodramatic horror piece. With better comedians and a better script, this could have been something of a cult classic. As it stands it is an unfunny comedy that at 90 minutes moves at much too slow a pace, but has a superb supporting cast as well as clever and occasionally stunning photography.
Of course it has some historical value as the first ever snowman film – and if one so wishes – as Finland’s first science fiction film, although I’d be hard pressed to call this a sci-fi movie, since the snowman is simply treated as an almost magical creature without the least attempt to try and put its existence in some sort of scientific context. I’d say Finland still had to wait for 1969 and Risto Jarva’s futuristic A Time of Roses for its first science fiction film (unless you count the partly Finnish-funded Moonwolf as a Finnish movie). Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä is available on DVD, but sadly only with Finnish ans Swedish subtitles, and no dubbing.
Pekka ja Pätkä lumimiehen jäljillä. Directed by Armand Lohikoski. Written by Reino Helismaa, Armand Lohikoski. Based on characters by Ola Fogelberg. Starring: Esa Pakarinen, Masa Niemi, Siiri Angerkoski, Anneli Sauli, Olavi Virta, Åke Lindman, Tuija Halonen, Vihtori Välimäki. Music: Toivo Kärki. Cinematography: Osmo Harkimo, Pentti Unho. Editing: Armas Vallasvuo. Art direction: Aarre Koivisto. Makeup: Olavi Suominen. Sound: Kaarlo Nissilä. Produced by T.J. Särkkä for Suomen Filmiteollisuus.