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Every era has its hooligans: "Häjyt", knife-wielding troublemakers, were a major source of unrest in Southern Ostrobothnia, Finland in the 19th century. They would incite fights, race stolen horses, get drunk and generally wreak havoc wherever they went. Even though the phenomenon faded out before the turn of the century, the memory of the häjys is still well remembered in Finland and has been examined in films as well, notably in Ilmari Unho's 1950 period piece Härmästä poikia kymmenen and Aleksi Mäkelä's Häjyt (1999), a modernized take on criminality in Ostorbothnia.
The plot is loosely based on the famous song about the life of the two most famous häjys, Antti Isotalo and Antti Rannanjärvi. A loud bunch of hooligans led by the farmer Isotalo (Tauno Palo) and his right hand man Iisakki Nukari (Yrjö Kantoniemi) has been causing so much problems in the rural municipality that a new officer of law (Kalle Kirjavainen) is sent to sort things out by any means necessary. However, the locals are afraid of the hooligans' revenge and finding reliable evidence against anyone is difficult. At the same time Antti Isotalo's son Janne (Kauko Helovirta) is hoping to marry a local girl Katri (Hilkka Helinä), but neither Antti nor the girl's father are happy about the plan.
Even though the vast Ostrobothnian plains automatically make a great-looking backdrop for the events and the dialect is fun to listen to, for the most part the movie is a pretty frustrating experience. Any interesting aspect of the story gets quickly drowned under the noisy bragging, racing, fighting and yelling that becomes repetitive and irritating soon. There could have been potential for a fascinating character study of a man torn between the demands of the law and maintaining a tough "not-scared-of-anything" reputation (and Tauno Palo could have surely handled such a demanding role too), but every time such delicacies are hinted at, an action scene stomps the developments down time after time. I guess the numerous horse races are basically fun to see, but a serious drama movie needs a well-thought story I don't think we have one here.
Typically seen as a romantic hero of the silver screen, Tauno Palo fits in the bad guy role well and Yrjö Kantoniemi is fine as his sidekick Iisakki Nukari. I liked Kalle Kirjavainen's sturdy emotionless appearance too, but sadly his police character is left quite blank and uninteresting on a personal level, so not much tension is created between the two extremes of the spectrum of law. In my opinion Kauko Helovirta's character (Isotalo's son who doesn't approve his father's rebellious antics) is ultimately more worthwhile from a dramatic perspective and would have deserved a lot more screen time.
Ilmari Unho's directorial career has yet to impress me very much, but perhaps one day I will see a film by him that I like. Härmästä poikia kymmenen was not that film but showed potential for something greater: more character development and less showy action could have made it a very nice film.
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