My Top-10 Spede Films

spede lapland feverSpede Pasanen was a legendary Finnish film-maker, actor, writer, director and producer. I’ve done a few blogs in the past praising his work including a combined Top- and Bottom-5 list a while back. Recently, I purchased a complete collection of Spede movies which only omits his Uuno-franchise of films.

However, I’ve since discovered so many gems that I’ve decided to create this Top-10. I’m omitting any Uuno Turhapuro movies from this list but I still maintain that Uuno in the Army (along with a few other instalments such as Happy End, It’s My Life and Uuno in the Countryside) is worth watching.

But without further ado. On with the list…

X-Baron10. X-Paroni

(X-Baron)

Spede’s first starring feature may be very straight-forward on the off-set but already featured many of the conventions (or clichés) that would be seen in his future films. In one of several movies where Spede plays a dual role, he plays baron Wilhelm Von Tandem and the farmer Kalle. Von Tandem is a rich baron who is more interested in Native American cultures than he is about running his business which leads to a group within his consortium to continually exploit him. Kalle is an inventive and energetic farmer who happens to look exactly like him. The two end up switching places with Wilhelm charming the country-folk while Kalle manages to root out the exploiters (and incites their wrath as a result).

As I already mentioned, the movie features many conventions of Spede’s other films such as zany non-sensical sequences, bizarre gadgetry, gangsters and a rather elaborate chase-scene (considering the film’s low-budget). Albeit, the film still lacks the iconic repartee of Spede and Simo Salminen (who only has a small supporting role) and, as I mentioned, is quite straight-forward in its story over-all.

However, it shows amazing promise considering it was Spede’s first starring and directorial role (made with the co-direction of both Risto Jarva and Spede’s on-screen partner Jaakko Pakkasvirta who plays James the Butler). Definitely a feel-good movie worth seeing.

satans radicals the devil9. Saatanan Radikaalit

(Satan’s Radicals)

This off-beat comedy sees four Finns being sent away from Hell since they’re enjoying themselves too much. To make sure that they suffer properly, the Devil (Unknown Soldier’s Heikki Savolainen) gives them a briefcase full of money, sends them back to Finland and then makes it so the Finns can’t get drunk. After the curious quartet manages to misplace their briefcase, they try to rob a bank which goes awry and take part in much more insanity as the movie goes on.

Satan’s Radicals was an odd ball film, but the likable starring four actors play their roles well. The movie maybe starts off slow (and the scenes of Hell may be are a bit unconvincing) but the cartoony action and intricate characters work well, whether we’re talking about the fast talking Viiksi, the clumsy Hese or the team’s uncharismatic but pompous leader Paavo. Spede’s regular actors only play small supporting roles which also lets the relatively unknown main leads really let loose. Although it’s a comedy, the film has a bizarre dream-like aesthetic which makes it all the more weird and enjoyable.

Now, the slow start is the film’s main sin but I also can’t have it much higher since Spede technically only produced the movie, with the four principal actors also acting as the film’s directors. As such, it’s a far cry from Spede’s typical work (although he won his only Jussi Award for the job). Still, it takes guts to produce a movie with such a radical title. My only regret is that the likable gang of Piironen, Nousiainen, Nissi and Huopainen never acted on-screen together again as Paavo Piironen died in a car accident three years later.

unhanged8. Hirttämättömät

(The Unhanged)

In this sequel to Spede’s first comedy western Speedy Gonzales, the Fastest man in the West sets out to trick the Lonely Rider and his Indian friend Tonto by pretending to have a giant bounty on his head. He gets captured intentionally and lets the Rider and Tonto drive them to the desert, where Tonto foolishly puts out their fire with the last of the Rider’s drinking water. With the trio forced to traverse through the desert all manner of humiliation await the Rider, played by the legendary Vesa-Matti Loiri.

Loiri helped co-write Speedy Gonzales but didn’t star in the film due to having broken his leg just prior to shooting. The Unhanged is a more minimalistic film than the prior Speedy Gonzales, playing almost entirely on the good as gold chemistry between Spede, Simo Salminen and Loiri – the same chemistry that would be successfully harnessed by the Uuno series later. Loiri is really the one who steals the show with his frustration, mania and thirst growing larger and larger as the movie goes on.

It would seem like a very simple concept for a film but it just works excellently. Unfortunately, this movie and Satan’s Radicals both came out in 1971 which was Spede’s least successful year as a film-maker and led him to taking a two-year hiatus from film-making, returning with Simo and Loiri in (you guessed it) Uuno Turhapuro in 1973.

test tube adult7. Koeputkiaikuinen ja Simon Enkelit

(The Test-Tube Adult & Simo’s Angels)

Mathematician Mauno Mutikainen is pronounced dead after an operation to remove a splinter from his finger. A sample of his thyroid is sent to Dr. Jyrä who uses it to create a test-tube “child” which comes out fully grown and looking exactly like Mutikainen. A detective agency headed by Simo and his Angels are trying to protect Jyrä from the Gangsters Luigi (Loiri) and Teuvo who try to kidnap the Test-Tube child for reasons of world domination.

Starting from the mid-70s, Spede’s movies became low-budget affairs often lampooning on the success of his TV work. This film however, stands in stark contrast to most of his movies from the 70s and 80s, in that it’s a relatively “original” concept film which actually works well despite its rather modest production budget. Everything from the dialogue to the editing is top-notch and even the fact that almost all the main actors play multiple roles rather adds than detracts from the film. This is because the movie keeps its vast array of running gags together well through the admittedly cheesy science fiction farce comedy.

It was also Spede’s first colour feature since 1969’s Pohjan Tähteet (Leftovers of the North) as Spede refused to shoot in colour due to the high cost of film stock. The success of this film finally brought Spede out of his black and white funk and produced a sequel (the god awful Tup-Akka-Lakko). For all its worth, it’s a very entertaining fun-filled movie.

a gig too big (4)6. Liian Iso Keikka

(A Gig Too Big)

Nicolai Savtsentko’s gang composed of the child-like Hikka, the foxy Mandi and the slick Petteri, perform criminal acts for money which they are saving up for the heist of a cash-transfer truck. The gang uses unusual methods to pull off the crimes (usually enlisting the people they are trying to swindle) which baffles Inspector Koistinen who along with his cheery and nosey female colleague Detective Laitakari is trying to crack down on their bizarre string of crimes.

As I mentioned, Spede’s movies during the 1980s almost exclusively lampooned on Spede’s popular TV work and A Gig Too Big seems to follow in this tradition. The film’s law-enforcing duo of Pentti Siimes and Ritva Valkama had appeared side-by-side seven years earlier on the skit-show Parempi Myöhään… (Better Late Than…) and the cast is also mostly composed of Spede’s stock-actors from both his film and TV work. However, the movie utilizes its cast brilliantly with the natural comedy of Siimes and Valkama coming through well. Ville-Veikko Salminen does an excellent job as the charismatic crime leader in a bright yellow jacket, Vesa-Matti Loiri is naturally hilarious, Aake Kalliala gets to show both his serious and manic sides and Hannele Lauri… well, is just an absolute fox but also gives a great performance.

Indeed, this sets the movie above practically every Spede film from this decade outside the Uuno series. However, despite its excellent production, dialogue and acting performances, I can’t put it in the Top-5 since all due credit goes to writer and director Ere Kokkonen with Spede again being only the producer.

about 7 brothers5. Noin 7 Veljestä

(About 7 Brothers)

The land is controlled by the iron fist of the fat and greedy Lord of the Castle. Food is scarce, shovels don’t have handles and peasants can only afford to wear burlap sacks. Luckily, a hero called Robin Hood starts causing mayhem helped along by Long John (Ere Kokkonen), Friar Tuck (Jukka Virtanen), the inventor Leonardo (Leo Jokela) and an array of disgruntled peasants. In the meanwhile, the greedy lord tries to outsmart Robin Hood and sends a well-meaning but clumsy Sir William to masquerade as the Hood.

About 7 Brothers is about the most unlikely Finnish feature one could imagine. A Robin Hood Parody seems very unlikely but features the usual unorthodox nonsense of Spede’s films; particularly memorable being the Service Station scene and Leo Jokela trying to infiltrate the Lord’s Castle with a primitive vacuum cleaner. Group fight scenes, impressive cinematography and pop-singer Danny narrating the story in song-form are just some of the best aspects of this screwy off-the-wall film. Vesa-Matti Loiri also makes his screen debut as an adult actor and does a brilliant job considering his rather minor role in the film.

The movie admittedly has a few production errors and a few slow parts (Spede’s own song-number being one of them). However, the likes of this film were really not seen during this era and it stands as a particularly memorable film.

toy gangster4. Leikkikalugangsteri

(Toy Gangster)

Jim King is Finland’s most successful toy manufacturer but he keeps losing money to surtaxes. So, he starts coming up with plans to lose money disastrously so he can gather insurance, but each time his antics manage to cause trouble for a competing toy-tycoon called Krakström. What’s worse, Jim is in love with Krakström’s daughter which really doesn’t help their relationship.

Toy Gangster is an off-beat and silly film. It might even be a little unfocused but in its insanity gives its central players a chance to shine. Whether we’re talking about the malicious Krakström, the inventive but unlucky Jim or the bumbling Treasurer (yet again, Loiri) the film features memorable scenes of insanity and mayhem. It also features a trippy switch from black and white to colour in the final act of the film as the gangster Nitti sobers up for the heist which Jim wants him to pull.

Weird gadgetry, break-neck gags and Leo Jokela as an insane police commissioner with a hitler-moustache. This movie is more bananas than a fruit-cake which is why it stands out so well. Only Simo Salminen maybe falls by the way-side in his supporting role, but this movie is definitely excellent.

speedy gonzales gun3. Speedy Gonzales

Speedy Gonzales arrives in the small town of New York to investigate the murder of his brother Moses Gonzales. On his way, he gets shot at by Rita who misses and then starts following him around. Speedy questions the towns-folk and witnesses a bizarre trial where the murderous Clyde is acquitted on the ridiculous assumption that his victim committed suicide. Very soon, Speedy begins to realise that the whole town is aware who actually killed Moses but no-one wants to say a word.

Speedy Gonzales – The Son of About 7 Brothers (Noin 7 Veljeksen Poika) was both a parody and a tribute by Spede to the recently emerged Spaghetti-Western movement. In that, it’s unusually dark from Spede, although features a lot of the zany comedy he’s known for. The cast is huge, featuring practically every notable Spede actor from the period. From the Slowest Man from Häme (Simo Salminen) to Bat Masterson (Ville-Veikko Salminen), the big-toothed Manolito (Esko Salminen) to the untrustworthy Sheriff (Leo Jokela), the film is loaded with talent that has been used well to keep the film from turning stale.

Add to this, Jaakko Salo’s and Jukka Virtanen’s excellent music and the stylish direction of Ere Kokkonen and you have a film to be reckoned with. It’s not just a pretty good Western from Spede. It’s a great Spede movie which also happens to be a great Western. I also wrote a more extensive blog about this movie not long ago.

insane finland2. Pähkähullu Suomi

(Insane Finland)

An American hair-oil tycoon William Njurmi is visiting his ancestral home of Finland. However, the over-bearing chair of ministers finally get on his nerves so much that he runs off into the Finnish wilderness where he is chased by hunters and the Finnish military on a training exercise. Finally, he teams up with an inventor named Simo (Salminen) who lives in the woods. After Simo rescues William from being forcefully married off to a farmer’s daughter, the two become best friends, steal a car and take a grand tour of Finland.

Insane Finland is the peak of Spede’s contemporary crazy comedies. Apart from its intentional road-trip aspect (made to celebrate Finland’s 50th anniversary), it features Spede’s gadgetry, cartoony characters, a bizarre meta-narrative with a Producer and Director duo arguing with a Finnish tax-payer about the quality of the film and a long and intricate fight sequence at the finale. Esko Salminen gives another brilliantly over-the-top performance as Njurmi’s self-centred body-guard Luigi Cravatto, who steals the show towards the film’s end.

The film can be best described with the words in its title: very Finnish and totally insane.

TV man door1. Näköradiomiehen Ihmeelliset Siekailut

(The Amazing Hesitations of the TV Man)

Mikko is a TV prop man who dreams of hitting it big as a TV star, falls in love with the cafeteria lady and then does it hit it big by complete accident when he flubs a stand-in role as a butler. The fame eventually goes to his head and sows the seeds of his undoing.

The Amazing Hesitations of the TV Man is an unusual Spede movie for having such a focused story-line. In that, it’s actually rather light on Spede’s typical insanity (except for Mikko’s daydream scenes) but works incredibly well because of that. Simo Salminen’s role is quite minor again, but the movie definitely rides more on Spede’s own performance, as well as those of Vesa-Matti Loiri as a disgruntled news reporter and Leo Jokela, as Mikko’s wealthy uncle who tries to look out for him.

This film does everything right, has a good pace and story and perhaps shows Spede as a serious actor for his one and only time. For these reasons it always rises above all of his more serious and frivolous affairs and is still very enjoyable even as a comedy film.

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