Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Finnish Westerns, part two

Okay, to the second part in our on-going escapade on Finnish Western films. In the first part I concentrated on the Wild North movies by Aarne Tarkas (and mentioned some others in passing), in the second part there are two films (if there will be part three, it will be about some TV commercials and some odd pieces here and there) by comedian Spede Pasanen, one of the most commercially successful film-makers in Finland from the 1960's to the 1980's.

I'll have to admit I'm not a fan of Pasanen's humour. Seems like he hasn't got any sense of timing and his jokes and gags go on and on and on... Sometimes he managed to strike a chord, though, and some of his films have a cult following I can understand.

And one of these films is the latter of his western films, Hirttämättömät / The Unhanged from 1971. It's shot almost entirely in a sand pit somewhere in Southern Finland and the almost only set-piece in the film is a wagon (and almost throughout the film it has no horse). The film is about Speedy Gonzales (see more on him later), the famous killer (played by Spede Pasanen himself) and Lonely Rider and his buddy, Tonto, played by Vesa-Matti Loiri and Simo Salminen, respectively. All three are wanted men. Speedy Gonzales lets Lonely Rider and Tonto capture him and take him to another town to collect the reward, but he has a cunning plan: he knows there's not enough water for the three of them, and pretty soon the film is about trying to find water in the sand pit.

The film is absurd, but not absurdist. Some of the scenes must've been improvised on the set, given what kind of mad shit Vesa-Matti Loiri lets out of his mouth all the time. At times The Unhanged is quite boring and scenes just go on and on, but at times it's also very funny. And at times because of the film's minimalism it also reminds one of Monte Hellman's westerns, like The Shooting. The parody element is evident in the opening and closing song, sung by Vesa-Matti Loiri. (Sadly I could find only the trailer, which is very funny, but missing the music. Do check out this hilarious battle scene between Lonely Rider and Tonto and some Indians.)

The Unhanged was unofficially a sequel to an earlier western film called Speedy Gonzales - noin 7 veljeksen poika / Speedy Gonzales - the Son of the About 7 Brothers from 1970. This was a more traditional western film, in the vein of the then popular Spaghetti westerns. Spede Pasanen plays Speedy Gonzales (apparently the same guy as in the later film), who comes into a town to search the killer of his brother. There are some nice ideas in the film and the opening credits are very good, with the Morricone-like music by Jaakko Salo (see here), but all too quickly it turns into a sequence of not very good gags. The shoot-out in the end is quite good, though, and actually very nicely photographed. Too bad I didn't think the film was as fun as some others seem to think.

There's one memorable scene in the film. Between fights Spede Pasanen starts to tell a story and it turns into an absurd song which is accompanied by a story-within-a-story. It's done in a nice Spaghetti style.

One point still: Spede Pasanen, as all the men of his ilk, picked beautiful women to act in his films. There's lots to look at in both The Unhanged and Speedy Gonzales. And clearly Spede Pasanen picked some of his ideas for Speedy Gonzales from Roger Vadim's Les Pétroleuses with Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale, especially the outfits worn by his female lead actors.

Here's still one video, with a Western-style song by a Finnish singer called Frederik edited with scenes from Speedy Gonzales. (More Overlooked Movies here.)


Anders E said...

I'm stunned by the amount of Finnish westerns. AFAIK there has been exactly one Swedish; UNDER DITT PARASOLL (Under Your Parasol) which wasn't even a spoof of the genre but merely a very silly vehicle for then (1968) popular pop group Sven-Ingvars.

In this clip they are still in Sweden:


And here they have evidently traveled to Desperado City (uh-huh), US of A:


Directed by Ragnar Frisk, arguably the worst director of all time if you take quantity into consideration as well.

At least DAY OF THE OUTLAW looks like it was shot in the interior of northern Sweden...

Todd Mason said...

So, not, on balance, the most sophisticated products of the Finnish film industry. Were these treated like the US drive-in theater films they somewhat resemble?

Juri said...

Anders: thanks for the links, I'll take a look. Did you know there's also a Danish western?

Todd: most certainly not. There were no drive-in theaters to speak of Finland. The distribution system mighty also have been so different to be really able to compare. The two films of Spede Pasanen and the three Wild North films certainly received good distribution.

The Unhanged seems to have opened with three copies in three cinemas in Helsinki alone, and in TV screenings it's had over 3,000,000 viewers in all! The same with The Secret Valley of the Wild North I was talking about earlier got a pretty large opening theater for its premiere and over 1,000,000 viewers when it was shown in TV in 1981. There wasn't much to do in Finland back in the day...

Juri said...

Seems like I can't write based on my previous examples... "The same with The Secret Valley of the Wild North I was talking about earlier got a pretty large opening theater" should've of course been "The same with The Secret Valley of the Wild North I was talking about earlier: it got a pretty large opening theater..."