Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kun isällä on hammassärky / [When Dad Has Toothache]

In this Prohibition farce Dad (Aku Käyhkö) soothes his tootache with a three gallon bottle of liquor - externally and internally.
När far har tandvärk / När pappa har tandvärk / [Quando papà ha maldi denti]. FI 1923. PC: Suomi-Filmi Oy. P+D+ED: Erkki Karu. SC: Köpi (= Artturi Järviluoma). DP: Kurt Jäger. C: Aku Käyhkö (Dad), Naimi Kari (Mom), Toivo Louko, Martti Tuukka, Eino Jurkka (dad's card-playing pals), Emmi Jurkka (maid), Armas Fredman (a dentist's patient). Erkki Kivijärvi (in the Kämp scenes). Finnish / Swedish intertitles. 550 m / 20 min
    Suomi-Filmi 50th Anniversary re-release in 1969: Se oli vuonna 1923... Kun isällä on hammassärky. Edited by Kari Uusitalo. There was a 7 minutes prologue of vintage compilation footage. The total length of the sonorized compilation was 770 m / 28 min. A colour print, reconstructing tinting and toning. 1969 score: Eero Ojanen, Outi Kääriä. There are also sound effects.
    Centenary of the Cinema in 1995: a new print was struck of Kun isällä on hammassärky, of the 1969 sonorized reconstruction, without prologue.
    KAVI Centenary of the Cinema print (1995) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Erkki Karu), 26 March 2014. The duration of the sonorized print: 18'50".
A short farce by Erkki Karu. A tiny piece of bone causes such misery that Dad has to resort to a giant bottle of spirit - this in the era of Prohibition.

Erkki Karu made his first feature films Koskenlaskijan morsian and Nummisuutarit in 1923. Before that, he rehearsed with short farces, the best of which is Kun isällä on hammassärky.

Reviewers even claimed that Kun isällä on hammassärky started to approach the standards of good foreign film buffoonery, but that is an overstatement. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd were already at their best, and their films were well-known in Finland. Erkki Karu's farce resembles more the ones that were made 10-15 years earlier, early Keystone at best.

Having said that, there are interesting things in Kun isällä on hammassärky, which belongs to the inspired, experimental and inventive period of Erkki Karu as a director.

There is a nice Jan Olsson moment, a split screen telephone call shot with Dad and Mom appearing in separate balloons.

As Dad is about to depart from his card-playing pals he sees the harridan wife's face reflected in the bottom of his overshoes.

In the throes of his toothache Dad rolls on the table and under the bed. He scales walls and jumps to the ceiling.

Finally he produces from a locked safe a ten liter bottle of spiritus fortis. During Prohibition, doctors and dentists belonged to the sole legal sources of alcohol.

The aqua vita, consumed mostly by a single gulp, pacifies Dad for the time being. But in his nightmare he sees a vision of the Devil with an immense chisel, set to "kill the nerve" and to remove the aching tooth.

Dad has a mortal fear of dentists, but a female dentist dresses as a nurse, and via this trick manages to draw the sick tooth with her forceps in no time.

The visual effects and the special effects are good, but the farce is overstated and does not stand repeat viewings very well.

Kun isällä on hammassärky belongs to the forerunners of the Bringing Up Father cycle of three farces made in Finland in the 1930s. Aku Käyhkö and Naimi Kari are among the first Finnish film appearances of a Jiggs and Maggie type of a couple (in Finnish, Vihtori and Klaara). The word "Vihtori" became proverbial of a father who has a harridan wife.

In a bit role as Dad's card-playing pal, in his debut film performance, is Eino Jurkka, who played Jiggs / Vihtori in all three Finnish Bringing Up Father films (Kun isä tahtoo / Valentin Vaala, 1935, Kaksi Vihtoria / Nyrki Tapiovaara, 1939, and Vihtori ja Klaara / Teuvo Tulio, 1939).

Kun isällä on hammassärky was screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 1999, but I don't recall any particular response there.

The sonorized version of 1969 was compared favourably by contemporary critics to the mutilated versions of silent films then circulating on tv. Kun isällä on hammassärky is intact and integral, the tinting and toning is often beautiful, and the print does justice to the fine cinematograpy of Kurt Jäger. The soundtrack of the film imitates the 1960s style of silent farce reissues; I remember having laughed as a child at the Pat and Patachon sound effects. But the prima vista piano improvisation and the overdone sound effects (gargling, slurping, etc.) have not stood the test of time. A good print, anyway, of this reconstruction, but it would be a good idea to create a new music track someday.

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