Friday, November 27, 2015

Let's Watch "The Day The Earth Froze" In Glorious "SovoColor"!

"Peek-a-boo-I-see-you!" Nature girl Anniki frolics in the forest before the big chill arrives in the Finnish-Russian epic "The Day the Earth Froze".

Tervehdys, elokuvan ystaville! That's "Greetings, movie lovers!" in Finnish (Thank you, ImTranslator).

Today we travel to the ancient shores of (yes!) Finland, to the town of Kalevala to be exact, where true love, magic, trolls, an evil witch and the timeless allure of a Sampo take center stage in "The Day the Earth Froze" (1959).

A joint Finnish-Soviet Russia production photographed in glorious "SovoColor" (whatever the hell that is), "The Day the Earth Froze" is based on the Finnish epic Kalevaia , sort of their version of The Odyssey. No doubt this is indeed a stirring tale, and perhaps someday it will be captured in the cinematic glory it deserves. Until then, movie fans will have to suffer through the badly dubbed and totally nutsy "The Day the Earth Froze" instead.

Also known under the title of "Sampo" upon its release, our feature presentation takes us to the aforementioned Kalevala, a prosperous town where the hard working citizens are either employed in the fishing, lumber or goat herding industries. Legend has it that if the people of Kalevala stay honest, humble and true, they will someday receive a Sampo.

What, pray tell, is a Sampo? Well, it is a cross between a slot machine and a water fountain. It gives forth salt, grain and gold, so you can see why they are a big deal. What's more, Sampos are very hard to come by, so you can understand why the town of Kalevala would be delighted to have one on the premises.

Prince Valiant out pole vaulting? No, it's our hero Lemminkainen (Andris Oshin).

Also coveting a Sampo is the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko). She has an army of scruffy trolls working over time to produce one, but, unfortunately, these dopes are just not up to the task. So when the witch learns super blacksmith Ilmarinen could make her a Sampo, she connives to kidnap his sister Anniki (Eve Kivi) and then force him to make her the contraption.

Anniki is no ordinary girl, of course. That's because on the day she was born the angels got together and decided to make a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in her hair and starlight in her eyes of blue. That's why all the boys in town follow her around, because they long to be close to Anniki*.  Anniki, however, is a picky girl and she refuses to come across to just anybody until she meets Lemminkainen (Andreas Oshkin).

Lemminkainen is a lumberjack who stumbles upon Anniki when she's out doing the laundry. Of course, it's love at first sight and their first exchange plays like Dumb Enchanted Evening, except it's taking place in broad daylight.

"Who's gold is that?" Lemminkainen asks. "Can this be the daughter of the rosy dawn? Or the radiance of the moon?"

"It's not the moon! Nor is it the sun! I am just a simple maiden," twitters Anniki.

"Call Me Maybe?" Heroine Anniki shortly after meeting Lemminkainen.

Having met Mr. Right at last, Anniki scampers home to tell her bro and exclaim about her true love, "His eyes sparkle like the sun light glittering on the sea foam!" Delighted his kid sister will finally be off his hands at last, Ilmarinen agrees to the marriage. However, before the happy couple can make it legal, witch Louhi kidnaps Anniki and locks her in a cave.

Lemminkainen and his soon-to-be-in-law go off to rescue her, but first they seek the advice from wise old sage Vainamoinen. It is he who tells the guys they must fashion a special boat out of a special tree to survive the voyage to save Anniki. Lem and Ilm dutifully cut down the tree and carve out their vessel. They then sail off for Louhi's place, which is a cold and dark wasteland way off the bus line.

Being a crafty old blister, Louhi isn't about to hand over Anniki without forging the best deal for herself. Thus, she insists that Lem plow a field of snakes. To do this, Ilmarien crafts a horse out of metal. Soon the field is plowed. In the mean time, Louhi's evil Smurfs have smashed the guys' boat to bits. Not to worry; Ilm simply makes another boat out of steel (which has a moose figure at its prow). Then witchie-poo plays her trump card: she wants her visitors to make her a Sampo.

By this time you'd think Lem and Ilm would have had enough to Louhi's nonsensical demands. But no. True to their basic decency, Lem and Ilm (with the help of the trolls) do indeed make a Sampo. To do so, the blacksmith needed some special ingredients: "a wisp of lambs wool, a feather from a swan and a barley of corn." Once all that is rounded up, the blacksmith and the lumberjack get to work and in due time the Sampo is created. The contraption starts gushing salt, grain and gold right on cue. so the witch is finally satisfied. Anniki, Lem and Ilm are soon on their way home.

End of story? Not quite. You see, Anniki remembers that the Sampo was promised to their village as a reward for their piety. The bride-to-be feels guilty that Lem and Ilm had to build a Sampo for Louhi in order to rescue her. Anniki feels--and quite rightly so--that the mean old crone won't share the bounty of her Sampo fairly. In fact, when Louhi catches one of her trolls pocketing some gold coins, she sends the poor bastard off to the snake pits for punishment.

"Let's Make A Deal": Evil witch Louhi lists her demands to Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen

So Lem decides to swim back to Louhi's and steal the Sampo for the village. This leads to all sorts of complications and the end result is Lemminkainen is believed to be dead. This totally bums out Lemminkainen's ma (Ada Vojtsik), which is completely understandable. However, Ada is a plucky Finnish gal and refuses to give in to her despair.

Soon enough she's traveling all over town asking for help to find her son. First Ada asks a birch tree if she has any news about Lem. Unfortunately, the birch tree is only interested in discussing her own problems, which includes people stripping off her bark and kids snipping off her branches to make brooms. OK. Moving right along, Ada next asks the road for some info on locating her son. The road, frankly, could care less about Lem's where-abouts. In fact, the road is supremely pissed off that people are constantly trampling on him day and night. However, what really makes the road mad is all the horses shitting on him and their owners not cleaning up after their nags. OK. Sorry to have bothered you! Finally, Ada asks the sun for help in locating Lem and the sun comes through. Lem is indeed found safe and sound, but the Sampo is toast.

The news that Lem is alive so delights the village of Kalevala that nobody gives two hoots that the all important Sampo is wrecked. Instead, the happy Finns join together to throw Lemminkainen and Anniki a grand wedding. This features much dancing, singing and merry-making and everybody does indeed seem happy. Not so happy is witch Louhi. Whether that is because she wasn't invited to the wedding or because the groom stole (and ruined) her Sampo is anyone's guess. It could just be Louhi is a mean old blister who likes to stir up trouble. Anyway, while the citizens of Kalevala are partying like its 1099, Louhi steals the sun and locks it up in her cave.

This plunges the world into total darkness, of course, as well as perpetual snow and wind. Even for a people used to a harsh climate, this deep freeze is too much. Things get so dark and dismal, in fact, Lem can't tell what color his wife's eyes are anymore! So he decides to gather an army and march on Louhi to free the sun.

That's when old sage Vainamoinen steps in. He tells Lem that fighting witchie-poo with swords won't work. Instead, he orders the young men of the village to chop down a bunch of trees in order to make a passel of Kanteles, a string instrument that is plucked, much like a Dulcimer or a Zither. The women, meanwhile, were asked to give up all their jewelry to be melted down to make the Kanteleses strings. When the instruments are finished (no pun intended!) and tuned, the army marches to Louhi's lair.

"May the road rise up to meet you..." The Road gives grieving mother Ada an earful of complaints when she asks for help in finding her son Lem.

"The Day the Earth Froze" climaxes with Lemminkainen's army playing their Kanteles en masse. Their music puts the trolls to sleep. Louhi, getting desperate, sends her cloak over to strangle Lem. It's pulled off and drowned in the water. Then Lem marches up to Louhi and cuts her in half. The sun is promptly set free and the citizens of Kalevala rejoice and begin to thaw out. Lemminkainen and Anniki, meanwhile, go on to live happily ever after. The movie doesn't say this; I'm just assuming it happens. After all, there is no reason to think these two crazy kids wouldn't have a long, happy life together. They seem well suited to me, and even their hair colors match! Huzzah!

Despite its poor dubbing, moments of nutty surrealism and my good natured ribbing, there is much to admire about "The Day the Earth Froze": its bright use of color, its imaginative special effects, the spirit of cooperation that exists among the people of Kalevala, the chance to learn about another country's literary heroes.

Indeed, "The Day the Earth Froze" is a rare example of "artistic detente": during the dark days of The Cold War, the East (in this case Russia) and the West (Finland) would get together on some cultural project to show how the world's super powers could cooperate for the betterment of mankind. The results were often mixed, yet these periodic exchanges did provide a glimpse of hope that peaceful coexistence was possible.

Although the Soviet Union routinely gave America a severe pounding in their media, the Commie big-wigs really liked Hollywood movies and admired tinsel town's technical know-how. Naturally, they longed to prove Soviet movies could be just as good or even better than the ones churned out by the Capitalists.

The problem in meeting this challenge was the iron hand of censorship. Russian and Eastern Bloc artists had to repeatedly prove their fealty to Communism and The State before they create anything. Shortages, bureaucracy and government interference stifled creativity and production even further. That's why the best examples of Soviet-era film making were flicks based on fairy tales, epic poems and classic children's stories. The subject matter was safely apolitical and drew inspiration from the country's cherished traditions, thus they created fewer problems for both the film makers and the state authorities.

The movie poster for "The Day the Earth Froze" doesn't accurately reflect the film's subject matter.

With its arms always wide open to the weird and wonderful, Junk Cinema is the ideal place for finding flicks like "The Day the Earth Froze"--you won't find this picture on Netflix or Red Box or even on late-night cable. In fact, I only learned about our feature presentation from watching MST3K--yet another example of the pure genius of the folks at Best Brains. This just proves once again how Junk Cinema is a valuable part of our collective cinematic heritage. Where else will you find a movie based on the Finnish national epic, made with the cooperation of the now defunct USSR, shot in "SovoColor", sharing the mystic delights of the Sampo? Junk Cinema rules!

Until next time, keep your Kanteles in tune and SAVE THE MOVIES!

* Yes, these are the lyrics of the song "Close to You" by The Carpenters. Needless to say, I hate the song.