Despite being always hated by critics, the "rillumarei" culture once enjoyed huge popularity among the general public in the 1940s and 50s. One of the foremost figures in the genre was songwriter Reino Helismaa who also wrote a great number of movie scripts. Helismaa's collaborations with the popular comedian Esko "Eemeli" Toivonen include many silly but entertaining flicks like Kaks' tavallista Lahtista (1960) and Voi veljet, mikä päivä! (1961) as well as three movies with Eemeli mentioned in the title. Oho, sanoi Eemeli is the first one out of them and turns out to be a very positive surprise.
The story begins when Eemeli's elderly parents observe that their potato crops are failing to meet their expectations. Subsequently they send their grown bachelor son out in the world to earn some money and he soon joins a group of musical lumberjacks in the village of Römpsänperä which unfortunately suffers from a chronic lack of timber. At the same time a self-confident razor salesman Tommi (Tommi Rinne) arrives in the village in order to win a bet regarding his unbelievable selling skills. In addition, romantic feelings start developing between the lumberjacks' new lady cook Marjatta (Leni Katajakoski) and one of the handsome men of the crew.
Eemeli has been called "the Buster Keaton of Finland" and the connection between the two dead-pan comedians is not hard to see, even though Eemeli is anything but silent. His stone-faced one-liners and puns evoke memories of the hilarious monologues of Pvt. Honkajoki in the war classic The Unknown Soldier (1955) but also of Groucho Marx's famous wordplays. Lines like "Harvoin mekin ansaitsemme" and "Sic transit Gloria Swanson" would be amusing in their own right, but besides Eemeli's charisma, the charm of the movie lies in the plentiful, catchy and highly amusing musical numbers by Eemeli and various other characters, such as the beautiful Leni Katajakoski and the "Mini-Elvis" child star Vesa Enne who gets to perform several funny rocking tunes while barely outsizing his guitar.
Vesa Enne as the young lumber boss-in-training is certainly among the funniest characters, but his Karelian on-screen father Einari (Einari Ketola) stands out as well. The legendary Siiri Angerkoski just cannot be anything but good as Marjatta's sturdy aunt Isabella, but I especially loved the handsome Tommi Rinne in the role of the fussy and suave electronic razor salesman whose business keeps running into troubles due to the lack of electricity in the lumberjacks' cabin. Eemeli himself may not have the most melodic singing voice out there, but his "mouth-trumpet" and verbal gags easily earn him a justified position as the title character of the film.
Even though it is understandable that overly serious film academics may not find anything to appreciate in the rillumarei humour, fans of featherweight musical comedies have absolutely no reason to miss Oho, sanoi Eemeli. Sure, the plot is secondary to the jokes and there are no subtle societal messages hidden in the story, but at the same time the film achieves its own goals with flying colours. The music is excellent and the 90 minutes fly by, so I think the movie can safely be called a Finnish 1960s comedy classic.
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