Sunday, 2 November 2014

Review ‘Sadan miekan mies’ (1951)

Sadan miekan mies (‘The man of a hundred swords’) is a Finnish adventure comedy from 1951, set in the year 1634, two years after the death of Gustavus Adolphus in the battle of Lützen. It tells a story of a captain who is conducting a never-explicitly-stated mission for the King as he roams the countryside of Eastern Sweden (i.e. Finland). Even though it has its weaknesses, it also has its fun moments.

The film begins with the captain and his sergeant arriving and enjoying themselves at the Koskela mansion. A woman, Lady Elisabeth, fighting with her cousin drops a letter from a balcony at the captain’s feet and he picks it up and keeps the cousin from getting his hands on it. Later, he appears to return the letter to the lady, but he actually keeps it to himself, having recognised the handwriting on the letter. Upon realising this, Lady Elisabeth’s cousin then plots to kill the captain and his friend in order to get the letter back and to stop the word of its contents from getting out. Later, it turns out that the cousin is working for Van Heeren, a man who plots to bring Sweden back under the influence of the Holy Church.

The plot is filled with action and not all plot twists are properly explained. At one point Lady Elisabeth and her sister dress up as men to travel back to their mansion, but the reason for the disguise is not explained. Similarly, the bad guys’ evil plot never goes anywhere and they are mostly concerned with capturing the captain and his friend. However, it must be said that similar plot holes and leaps of logic still exist in most modern action and adventure films.

True to the period this film was made in, the actor playing the captain – Kalervo Nissilä – never loses his air of superiority. He has apparently gone through the Errol Flynn school of acting and keeps grinning through every setback – and especially so when he’s fighting. From a modern perspective, he is a bit too confident and superior in comparison to his adversaries - but, again, this was typical in films of this era.

The costumes and swordplay don’t satisfy a period enthusiast, but they are equal to the Errol Flynn tradition. The swords are the usual theatre foils not even pretending to look like rapiers and the swordplay is a direct copy of Hollywood films of the same period – showy banging of blades against each other while delivering biting remarks to one’s opponents. The costumes are simplified semi-fantasy fare. The direction stumbles sometimes, especially in the bigger fight scenes where some of the actors seem to barely know how to hold a blade and perhaps in the area of the plot holes (assuming that they were not in the script already). But, overall, it serves its purpose and does not pale in comparison to other adventure movies of the era.

Nevertheless, the film manages to entertain. While some of the entertainment is drawn from the silly plot and the plot holes, there are some actually good jokes in the mix. One such is delivered when the sergeant and a lady are peeking through a window to see if the escape route is free. The woman sees six men on the yard, but the sergeant says that he sees no one. At the lady’s surprise, he simply states ‘the captain only starts counting from ten upwards’.

I find it impossible to put a score on these early adventure films and keep them fair in comparison to modern fare. Therefore, let it just be said that while the movie was somewhat silly in addition to being a comedy, I enjoyed it for what it was. In fact, I would not mind reading a novel expanding on the plot.