Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ski Patrol

Jägarpatrullen. US © 1940 Universal Pictures Company, Inc. P: Warren Douglas. Associate P: Ben Pivar. D: Lew Landers. SC: Paul Huston. DP: Milton Krasner, A.S.C. AD: Jack Otterson; associate: Ralph M. DeLacy. Set dec: R.A. Gausman. Cost: Vera West. [M: Frank Skinner (n.c.)]. M director: H.J. Salter. S supervisor: Bernard B. Brown. Technician: Robert Pritchard. ED: Edward Curtiss. Cast: Philip Dorn aka Frits van Dongen (Lt. Viktor Ryder), Luli Deste (Julia Engle), Stanley Fields (Birger Simberg), Samuel S. Hinds (Capt. Per Vallgren), Edward Norris (Paavo Luuki), John Qualen (Gustaf Nerkuu), Hardie Albright (Tyko Gallen), John Arledge (Dick Reynolds), John Ellis (Knut Vallgren), Henry Brandon (Jan Sikorsky), Kathryn Adams (Lissa Ryder), Abner Biberman (Russian Field Commander), Wade Boteler (German Olympics Spokesman), Addison Richards (James Burton, American speaker), Reed Hadley (Ivan Dubroski), Trevor Bardette (Aranoff, Russian Tunnel Team Commander), John Gallaudet (Russian prisoner), Jodi Gilbert (Fanni Nerkuu), Nels P. Nelson (Finnish camp cook) Christian Rub (Jakob Sorenson, old villager), Karl Hackett (Gregor, tunnel soldier), Leona Roberts (Viktor's mother), Jack Gardner, George Magrill (Russian soldiers). 64 min. MPPDA certificate 6225. Screener dvd viewed at home in Helsinki, 13 Nov 2011.

An American film about the Winter War (1939-1940) between Finland and the Soviet Union, based on Luis Trenker's Tyrolean WWI movie Berge in Flammen / The Doomed Battalion (1932). The movie was never released in our land.

There is a 1936 Olympic Games poster behind the opening credits. Bobsleigh, skating, ski jumping, cross-country skiing and downhill racing are among the sports. With a gentlemanly spirit the Finnish Viktor helps Ivan during the race. Ivan (USSR) wins the ski marathon, Viktor (Finland) is second, and Dick (USA) the third. (USSR did not participate in Olympics before WWII). In the medal ceremony the American speaker praises world peace. Cut to a montage of explosions in Ethiopia, China, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Finland. There is an idyllic mountain landscape supposedly in Finland, and a folk dance. (There are hardly any mountains in Finland, and none on the Karelian border. The folk dance scene in all its details is strictly Ruritanian, or perhaps Tyrolean.) Julia is already preparing and in uniform, a member of the Lotta Battalion. We see an image of an Order of General Mobilisation, 8 Jan 1940 (the Winter War started on 30 November, 1939). Finns are surprised and reluctant to go to war (in reality there were were special exercises and a general mobilization months in advance, and there was a rare determination to fight). A Red Army plane fires, and Paavo's sister Liisa is the first casualty. Magnificent footage of torch-bearing skiers on a nocturnal mountain slope (perhaps from Luis Trenker's movie Berge in Flammen / Doomed Battalion). "There's our stopping place: Silver Mountain, we must hold it." The Finns dig trenches, set up barbed wire, and build a dugout. There is a daredevil sharpshooter Simberg, ready to fight: "I can shoot, I never miss". "Save the bullets for men". One of the men is a Nobel Prize winner, and other carry names of prominent artists such as Engel, Gallen, Vallgren and Simberg. The Russians' plan is to explode the mountain. The Finns' goal is to prevent them. Russians launch an avalanche which wipes out the Finns' supply team. We see the daredevil Viktor racing downhill. The men in the dugout cannot sleep listening to the Russians drilling. Gustav falls down to his death on the ski track at the very moment when his baby boy is born. There is a final race of the Finnish suicide patrol along the mountain slope with great action footage (probably from Luis Trenker's film), and devastating casualties on both sides. When the target is near Viktor is about to shoot a Russian, but it is Ivan, who takes his explosives and refuses to kill Viktor. "The penalty for a traitor is death", says Ivan's officer and executes Ivan point-blank - defusing the explosives and destroying his whole unit. At Paavo and Liisa's graves the Finnish officer speaks: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they have done. The victory is theirs, but they couldn't realize the cost to them and to us. The flower of our youth trampled by their mad ambition. All of them gone, destroyed before their life has begun. And to what end, my Lord, to what end?"

This is a quickie production with a lot of back-projection and no commitment in the performances of the actors (Luli Deste and Samuel S. Hinds are good, though). The film is so oblivious of reality that it would not have been even offensive if it would have been released in Finland at the time. There is a blatant disregard for authenticity. The best aspect of the movie is the downhill racing footage probably lifted from Luis Trenker.

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