The Day The Earth Froze (1959)
Directed by Risto Orko and Aleksandr Ptushko
Written by Vaino Kaukonen
Run Time: 67 min
Yes…finally, a Scandinavian picture.
Our film begins with a nice wad of narration:
"Throughout history people have listened to the story teller. Men who could fashion myths and fairy tales and make them live for his listeners. Such men were the Brothers Grimm in Germany, and Hans Kristian Andersen in Denmark, and such a man was Elious Lindrok in Finland, who wrote the story you are about to see."
Yes, well. How nice.
Anyway, to make a long narration short, there is a village of fisher people who take care of the land. Oh yeah. There is a beautiful women named Annikki who frolics with the animals and whom everybody loves.
Keep in mind that this narration continues and continues and continues, all over a montage of scenes that look like a "COME VISIT FINLAND" travel brochure. Moving right along, our narrator tells us that Annikki refuses the, *ahem*, "attentions" of all the young men of the village. Yet there is a man who lives deep in a forest who is named Lemminkainen. (Dear Lord, I’m going to have to think up some shorter names), a simple woodsman. (Are there complex woodsmen?)
OK, here is our name list:
Annikki will henceforth be called "Anni"
Lemminkainen will henceforth be called "Lem"
Oh yeah. The narrator informs us that there is an Evil Witch plotting against the good villagers. This information is dubbed over a shot of men in white frocks being lead away to imprisonment, supposedly by said Evil Witch.
This is a bizarre film.
There will be, um, dialog, in this film I hope…
Ok, well, some old dude comes up to Lem and tells him to go home and take a rest since he’s been chopping down trees for 3 days straight (!). (Yeah, you’d think so.) Lem tosses down his axe and floats down a river on a log. (The actor who plays Lem (or at least a stuntman) is actually floating down a swiftly flowing river while standing on a log. Even if his feet were fastened, this is still a pretty impressive stunt I must admit.)
As Lem floats down the river and out into the bay, he espies the attractive Anni, who is doing laundry. At least that’s what I think she’s doing. She has unrolled long, long rolls of white cloth on the ground, stretching for at least 30 feet into the woods. You really have to see this movie if you get the chance.
Introductions are made and Lem floats off on his log (so to speak). (Imagine how bizarre the English dubbing of a 1959 Finnish movie could be…then multiply that by 3…there…you’re almost in the ballpark.)
Anni walks into the woods. Flowers bloom and birds sing. Literally. No, I mean it. As she walks by flowers…they bloom. Yes, and she only has to stick her finger out for a songbird to land on it. Yea verily, life was simple in Finland back then. Oh yeah, bears dance too. (See the movie…this is all so bizarre I’m having trouble typing as I watch this.)
Meanwhile, in a dark cave somewhere, the Evil Witch, Louhi and a bunch of troll blacksmiths are laboring away, pounding on stones with big hammers and making a big ruckus. No wait, the blacksmiths are actually wizards, as I learn when Louhi storms in and begins chewing them out for working too slow on her "Sampo". If there are any Finnish readers out there, please, please tell me what the hell a "Sampo" is and why a wizard would want one. Thank you.
OK, I put the film on pause so I can try to catch up here. I’m really trying to describe this the best I can. Here we go. Louhi is going to throw one of the troll / wizards into "the viper pit" because he’s working too slow on his "Sampo". The doomed wizard begs for mercy and says that he knows of a guy named Ilmarinen (Marine from here on out…oh yeah, he’s Anni’s brother) that can make the Sampo. Up comes a different wizard who does a little magic spell over some water and *bingo*, we see Anni talking to her brother, Marine.
Louhi goes up on top of a mountain and says some Magic Words before releasing her cloak into the wind. The general gist of her spell is that the cloak will somehow fetch Anni back. (I think she’s planning on ransoming Anni to Marine for his Sampo. Dear God…am I actually writing all this?)
Anyway, Anni is hopping onto her boat to go somewhere when the cloak floats down out of the sky and fastens itself to the mast as an Evil Sail. The wind blows, and <whoosh>!, Anni is swept away…carried back to Louhi Land. Fortunately Lem sees all this go down, so now he’s pissed because Anni is his new sweetheart and well, nobody macks on Lem’s honey.
Yes well, upon her arrival to Evil Magic Sorcerer Land, Anni is locked up inside a magic cave to await her fate. Lem runs back to the village and informs Marine that Louhi has abducted his sister. Now Marine is pissed. In fact, he’s so flustered that he pulls out a massive sword and chops a boulder in half (!!). Marine then gives the sword to Lem whom I suppose is off to rescue Anni. No wait, Marine grabs an axe and comes along too.
Lem and Marine stop and have a chat with a local wise man / wizard named Vainamoinen. (Vain from here on, if you please.) Vain instructs them on how to build a magic boat so they can cross the waves and reach the Edge of The World where Anni is being kept. As Lem and Marine begin chopping down a magic tree in order to construct their magic boat we see stock footage of a bear standing on its hind legs. Why? Who knows. (Do yourself a favor…do whatever it takes to see this movie. )
With the boat complete, Lem and Marine burn rubber and head off over to the Edge of the World. Or wherever the hell Anni is being kept.
Meanwhile, Anni is snooping around the caves she’s being kept in. As Anni enters one enormous chambers, she discovers the Winds are being kept prisoner..the North, South, East, and West winds are entrapped in enormous leather bags and chained to the floor. Alas just as Anni is about to release the Winds from their imprisoning bags, Louhi discovers what she’s up to and has a pair of underlings lead her away.
When Lem and Marine arrive on Louhi’s island, they challenge the witch to a battle for Anni’s release. Louhi comes up with a counter offer: If Lem and Marine will perform 2 "simple" tasks, Anni will be released. (I can’t wait.)
First, Lem has to plow one of Louhi’s fields that is "overrun with snakes". Lem agrees and Louhi shows him the "Field of Snakes". (The "Field of Snakes" special effects are realized with a table-top miniature ‘valley’ with a few lethargic snakes in it.)
"I must have a plow!" demands Lem. Why yes, I guess that would help. Marine offers to "build" (!) Lem a horse to pull the plow.
In the meantime, Louhi’s trolls have destroyed Lem and Marine’s boat. (Doh!)
OK, Marine goes down into a cave, pounds on some rocks, and makes a magic red horse. Hey, I’m only reporting what I see here. Lem hitches up the magic horse and starts plowing, but is attacked by snakes. Managing to kill a snake, Lem and Marine go on to finish plowing the field. Once again, I’m only reporting the facts here.
With the Field of Snakes successfully plowed, Lem demands that Anni be released. (Weren’t there two tasks?) Louhi laughs and tells them that it won’t do them any good because a "giant fish" destroyed their boat. Marine doesn’t give up that easy, let me tell you. His solution? Build a bonfire, chant "Boat! Boat! Come up from the fire!" and start pounding rocks. Sure enough, up comes a "magic" boat, which looks like a moose in my opinion.
"Look! A boat!" cry the trolls as a boat emerges from the flames, slides down the hill into the sea, and begins ramming the trolls’s boats.
OK, fine. Now we get down to brass tacks. Louhi says that if Marine will forge a "Sampo" for her, then, and only then, will Anni be released.
First some ingredients: a swan’s feather, a tuft of wool, and a handful of barley, all of which Marine casts into a roaring fire, so there you go. There is however one missing ingredient: "The fire that burns in the clouds!"
"How dare you!", shrieks Louhi, "Don’t ever mention that!" (I really don’t know what’s going on here.)
Anyway, Marine insists on the "Heavenly Flame", or else Louhi can just forget her Sampo. Forced into a corner, Louhi relents and sends a pair of trolls out to fetch the Heavenly Flame. The trolls return with a huge cauldron full of red-hot coals, takes a cow’s skull (!!) from the embers and shakes it over the bonfire.
As the trolls work the bellows, Marine pounds away on a big piece of metal. After a while, Marine douses the fire and removes the new Sampo. As Louhi looks on, Marine proudly displays his work, which to me looks like a big shiny…something. I expected a Sampo to be a little, well, ‘cooler’ I guess. But there you have it.
Louhi wants to know if it works. A fair question to be sure. Who would want a non-functional Sampo? Sure as hell not me. Well, Marine says something or other and suddenly money starts spewing out of the Sampo, also some powdery stuff that drives the trolls crazy (don’t ask). Louhi, pleased with the Sampo, releases Anni.
Safely in the boat and about to go back home, Anni is dismayed that the cost of her release was a Sampo, also known as the "people’s treasure." Well, Lem says he’ll go back for it (!) and promptly jumps into the sea and swims (!) back to the witch’s island. I’m not sure how Lem is going to get a 10-foot high money-spewing stone back to the boat on his own, but I guess we’ll find out.
Oh wait. Lem cut a hole in one of the Wind bags (ha ha) which some how fills the cave with fog, so he can steal the Sampo. When the fog clears, Louhi sees the that the Sampo is missing, puts 2 and 2 together and realizes what’s happened. Now she’s pissed. The trolls are ordered to release some wind out of one of the Wind bags and Lem’s boat is sunk.
Back home, Anni and Marine worry about Lem’s fate. (I’m not sure how they made it back since there was only one boat, but whatever.) Lem’s mother, also sick to death with worry, talks to some magic trees (!) and is referred to some sort of stone dude. This talking rock gives her some advice which unfortunately I couldn’t make out because the sound track was a bit garbled at this point. Not like it would have cleared anything up at this point.
OK, it doesn’t matter. Lem comes staggering up on the beach and collapses with exhaustion. Wouldn’t you know it. Anni is standing a few feet away along with Lem’s mother. The two help the sodden Finn to his feet when he admits that he has, unfortunately, destroyed the Sampo. (What? When did that happen?) Well, he did bring back a chunk of Sampo, it looks a bit like an ashtray. "This will bring our people much joy!", exclaims an Old Wise Dude.
Yes. Great joy in the form of watching a Finnish folk dance. Joy.
Oh, I see it now. Lem is marrying Anni. But the solemn occasion is being watched by the evil Louhi. Typical. ("What to you see the present I got you…" <cackle><cackle>!) Anyway, Lem and Anni jump into a boat with Marine at the rudder. The happy newlyweds float off to some other Finnish place where a Wise Woman, does something. You know, if I knew more about this particular legend maybe I can explain a little better what’s happening. I’m pretty much reduced to a state of perpetual confusion due to my ignorance.
Anyway, Old Wise Due holds a huge banquet while Louhi, hiding in the forest, manages to steal the sun. I repeat. Louhi steals the sun.
This solar abduction puts a damper on the marital festivities to say the least. Things aren’t looking very good back home for Lem and the others. Snow blows, wind howls, stock footage of running goats. I repeat: stock footage of running goats. To top things off, Lem talks a walk in the frozen woods and finds a dead swan. Hmmm. Maybe that symbolizes something in Finland.
Lem goes to Marine with a desperate plea: forge a new sun. (Man, I know this guy is good, but a new sun? Isn’t that asking just a bit much?) Well, as Marine pounds on his anvil, the villagers gather around to watch. All the ruckus brings Old Wise Dude around who sees what Marine is up to. "It’s futile", he dourly notes.
There’s only one thing to do: go to Louhi’s island and battle her evil forces to free the sun. (Well…duh!) A magically battle, by the way. Instead of swords the villagers will be using harps. Yes. Harps.
So, the villagers get to work chopping down a bunch of trees so they can whip up some harps.
Harps at the ready, Lem and the villagers attack the troll army by playing their harps, which I guess the trolls, really, really, don’t like because, well, they lose. The evil witch Louhi turns into a statue and Lem chops a big rock in half thus releasing the sun.
Really, feel free to watch this movie and write a more coherent review if you would like.
Dennis Grisbeck (August 2005)
This movie is pretty strange. Even if I had known more of Finnish mythology, this still would have been a really, really, strange movie.