It's nearly futile to write this in English, but in the tradition of this blog, here goes anyway.
After putting so much effort in watching, reading and even writing about Western films, and more recently, about Finnish western films, I could not avoid watching the first new theatrical Finnish western film since 50+ years: Hirttämättömät (The Unhanged)
Given that it's not strictly a film set in the West, one could argue The Last Border from 1993 was a western too. But unlike with the Last Border, here we see all the Western paraphernalia, such as wide-rimmed hats, revolvers, western outfits, horses etc. Together with the western-style music I'm going to say this is the more fully-formed Western of the two.
|The new cast|
The film in question is a remake of the 1971 "cult classic" Hirttämättömät ("Unhanged"). This was a sequel to the earlier fennowestern Speedy Gonzales - noin 7 veljeksen poika. (Speedy Gonzales: Son of About Seven Brothers). As most western clichés had been explored in the first film, the creators concentrated on a more narrow topic: three guys crossing a desert.
I actually have something of a soft spot for this small film, so perhaps count me in as one of the cult members. Speedy Gonzales fools Lonely Rider and Tonto to imprison him and to take him over to Threepencestad, "alive", so as not to have to take the trip himself.
They circle around what is obviously a sand pit, and suitably for a pitifully small road movie, small episodes also take place. Mostly about who gets to drink water and who has to pull the cart. And who wins the heart of the women they inexplicably meet during their journey. It is funnier at the start, whereas it gets repetitive and boring at the end.
|The 1971 original, with Vesku, Spede and Simo.|
The original film was nearly entirely carried by the antics of Pertti "Spede" Pasanen, Vesa-Matti "Vesku" Loiri and Simo "Simo" Salminen. Mostly by Vesku, who had the broadest acting range of the three and the capability to fully embody the farcical character. Spede is his usual taciturn "Spede" character, derived from a more typical Eastwood-like western hero. Simo supplies much of the physical gags, who, as a non-native American, still plays one. (Gasp!)
For the Finnish kids who watched Spede-Show on TV in the 1980s, these three figures have became cemented as an epoch-defining comedic "trio", both by being genuinely amusing (in kid-metrics), but by also featuring in a spate of so-bad-they-are-good "Spede films" adults still enjoy for their campiness. Reviled by critics, loved by the masses, in this film we already see the trio dynamics in action: there are really very few additional characters.
This new version follows the structure of the original with some additions. Aku Hirviniemi tries very hard to out-bullshit Vesa-Matti Loiri's 1971 character but overstays what little welcome he had in the first place. Despite having a few amusing gags he ends up just demonstrating some kind of split personality and his needy and whiny mental collapses cease to be funny after the first time round.
|The famous cart|
The "Speedy" in this film is a young woman (Ona Huczkowski), who the other protagonists think is a boy. Ha ha. Spede Pasanen had such a screen presence many felt his face was amusing in itself, there's no such advantage to be had for this relatively unknown actor.
Andrei Alén, who also directs the film, plays the "Tonto" character. He might be relatively interesting as the non-Indian "Indian", but as Hirviniemi overflows every scene with his babbling, he and Speedy have very little room to operate.
Some new jokes are pursued from gender relations and environmentalist themes of our times, but perhaps fortunately the gender angle is not explored too far. No Indians are in sight in this film either.
I think the pacing of the film is at least okay, I felt some genuine curiosity about where this all might be headed towards. Not too much time is wasted on a single theme (a problem with the original) but unfortunately the comedy is just not that funny.
As for the additional inventions on display, at places it was hard to understand if a thing shown on screen was supposed to be a plot point in development, or just a (failed) joke in itself. I mean, some of the ideas are never developed further.
The black and white nature of the 1971 version helped it make look like a more authentic western. The new film has colors which brings some challenges for simulating a wild west appearance. All in all the film looks nice in a small way and for example the costumes are rather well made.
Some digital background additions help the setting look more western-like, but at times they were jarring and I felt the point of the gravel pit aesthetics of the original has become lost.
|What we see most of the time|
The film has more nods to the Spede-films and Spede's type of humor than any real understanding of the history of Western films, which I would feel is a pre-requisite for a good Western comedy/parody.
The usual suspects are again referred to, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood films, with some Morricone nods in the music. From more recent films, we perhaps have some Tarantinoesque elements in how the film is occasionally framed as a nostalgic TV show with VHS quality ads.
Now that the native American aspect has been removed, there are very few "western jokes" left, and most of the comedy operates outside the western premise altogether.
Part of the comedy involves literal imitations of the 1971 trio—imitating Spede is practically a national pastime. Together with the cameo of Hannele Lauri (the "fourth" member of the trio), the film is in danger of becoming a meta-film about the emotional hole the trio left in the TV and film landscape for a generation of Finns. Some might say good riddance, but the existence of this film seems to indicate at least some people need to process that loss still yet.