vt The Criminal Woman; vt A Woman of Crime
Finland / 108 minutes / bw / Väinän Dir & Pr: Teuvo Tulio Scr: Regina Linnanheimo Cine: Osmo Harkimo, Veikko Laakso Cast: Regina Linnanheimo, Eija Karipää, Tauno Majuri, Kurt Ingvall, Martti Petsola, Paavo Jännes, Anton Soini, Kyösti Erämaa, Onni Hannukainen, Irja Rannikko, Pentti Irjala, Oiva Sala, Matti Aulos, Irja Kuusla, Kaisu Leppänen, Elli Ylimaa.
One of the reviewers of the Encyclopedia complained that I hadn’t included enough Finnish films noirs. I’d been sort of feeling quite proud of myself that I’d included as many as I had, by comparison with competing reference works, but I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Whatever, the reviewer very decently gave a list of some of the Finnish movies I hadn’t included, so I’ve decided to try to correct, at least in part, my omissions.
Rikollinen Nainen is more melodrama than film noir, but it has enough of the noirish tropes—amnesia, accidental bigamy, an innocent stuck in the joint, etc.—that, if I’d known about it, I might well have included it in the book: a borderline case.
Eeva (Regina Linnanheimo), speedboating with abandon.
Free-spirited Eeva (Linnanheimo, who also scripted) has been playing off against each other her two suitors, Judge Lauri Isokari (Majuri) and Kristian “Kris” (Ingvall), a doctor. In the end she chooses to marry Lauri, much to Kris’s chagrin—although he’s very civilized about it, remains a steadfast friend of both, etc. Over the years, however, Lauri starts to suspect that Eeva and Kris are more than friends—he even briefly worries that he might not be the father of his and Eeva’s son Kari (Petsola). After one blazing row, Eeva storms out to go to her mother’s, declaring she’ll return for Kari in the morning.
The next day Lauri—who’s on assignment as governor of the local prison—is told that a dangerous murderess has escaped from the train that was bringing her to the prison. Soon after, the murderess, Vera Puranen, is found—although amnesic from a head injury—and also the hideously mangled body of Eeva, run over by a train.
It’s soon made clear to us that, of course, it’s Vera who got run over and Eeva who’s the amnesiac, but no one in the movie realizes this and so Eeva is imprisoned in Vera’s place. Her habit of shrieking every time she sees the governor—whom she confusedly recognizes, but not as her husband—earns her a spell of hard labor in the peat bogs . . .
Kris (Kurt Ingvall) and Lauri (Tauno Majuri), united in grief at the funeral.
Eeva (Regina Linnanheimo), alive but bonkers in the joint.
Meanwhile, Lauri, believing himself a widower, has become captivated by the artist Riitta (Karipää), and proposes to her: “What would you say if I asked you to move here and become a mother to two lonely men?” Kari likes her too, although he’s less happy about accepting her as a stepmother. But “Uncle” Kris talks him into the idea, and the new Isokari family settles down happily enough.
Eeva (Regina Linnanheimo) is beginning to recover her wits.
Riitta (Eija Karipää) and Kari (Martti Petsola) have, after protracted uncertainties, become best buds.
Riitta has been observing Prisoner 311 at her husband’s jail, and twists Lauri’s arm to let her paint the woman’s portrait. Prisoner 311 proves, predictably, to be Eeva/Vera. Brought to the Isokari home, she recognizes the lucky elephant that Kris once gave her, and then the family dog, who recognizes her right back, and Kari, who initially doesn’t. But then Kari puts two and two together, manages to engineer his mom’s escape from the prison (in a highly implausible plot, this is the most implausible bit of all), and installs her in the cellar of the family home. When Lauri finds her and discovers who she is, the stage is set for a hair-raising car chase, some miracle surgery by Doctor Kris, and some hamfisted attempts by the four adults to deal with an unusual domestic situation.
All this time, Kris (Kurt Ingvall) has been holding Eeva in his heart . . .
The movie sags awfully in the middle—especially when either Linnanheimo or director Tulio seems to have thought that the best way to convey Eeva’s amnesia was to show her not just overacting the bonkers bit but doing so v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y—and it’s also burdened with an oddly jaunty musical soundtrack: it’s hard for us to empathize fully with Eeva’s misery and degradation when the music sometimes directly offset against it seems to be inviting a pub singalong.
Despite these flaws, there’s much here of interest. I’ve seen the movie described as Hitchcockian, but for me it has far more of the feel of an Henri-Georges Clouzot outing. An example of a device that seems reminiscent of both directors comes when the amnesiac Eeva sees her son and then later her husband and can’t understand why their faces are familiar to her: to express this confusion and bewilderment, the camera offers us multiple images of those faces.
Through a haze of mental confusion, Eeva recognizes her son Kari (Martti Petsola).
And there are some nice set pieces, too. One evening some while after Eeva’s supposed death, Lauri goes rowing on the lake opposite his house. A young woman swimming in the moonlit water grabs hold of a hawser trailing behind his dinghy and allows him to pull her along. As they exchange banter, they juggle the fancy that she’s a mermaid. So far as we viewers are concerned, the doubt remains as to whether the “mermaid” is really there or if she’s just a vision Lauri is having of Eeva—remembering a happier time, perhaps—or even if this is Eeva’s ghost. It’s only some while later, when Lauri, out hunting, finds Riitta sitting at a poolside having sprained her ankle, that it’s spelled out to us who the “mermaid” was.
Lauri makes a pleasant discovery on the moor: the charming artist Riitta (Eija Karipää).
Overall, then, this is a somewhat uneven piece—no masterpiece—but it’s certainly not a waste of a couple of hours. Tulio produced/directed other melodramas, and the extremely talented Linnanheimo starred in and wrote several of them. I’ll be keeping an eye out for others.