Throughout the 1930s and '40s, director Teuvo Tulio was responsible for a string of overheated Finnish melodramas and this was one of his most delirious concoctions. Although it nominally extols the virtues of purity and nature, this black-and-white tragedy is so steeped in sex, temptation and scandal that it would've never made it past the US's ludicrously restrictive Hayes Code. Loosely based on a story by Alexander Pushkin and starring Regina Linnanheimo -- one of her country's most popular stars, referred to by the press as "Finland's Bette Davis" -- it follows the travails of a naive young woman who's used, abused and destroyed by controlling, judgmental men... On a small, remote island, grizzled lighthouse keeper Kalle (Oscar Tengström) resides with his beautiful blonde adult daughter Ritta (Linnanheimo), who cavorts about this secluded paradise, plays with her various pets and enjoys nude swims. Like her mother, who split this lonely lifestyle years earlier in favor of the mainland, Ritta dreams of visiting the city someday, but father is determined to keep her safe from the decadent "bad world." One day, an unconscious stranger washes up on the rocks and, upon awakening, he's instantly enraptured by innocent Ritta. This rescued man, wealthy Mauri Holmberg (Ville Salminen), convinces her to accompany him back to the city, but Ritta's initial plan of staying only one night promptly goes awry since Mauri turns out to be a manipulative scumbag. Meanwhile, Kalle might've initially come off like a wildly over-protective, paranoid parent, but his fears were thoroughly justified! After being raped on her first day away, Ritta is abandoned, passed around by various men and winds up a streetwalker, living in a crowded flat for low-rent whores. Things seem to turn around for her when a poor but handsome artist hires Ritta to pose for a painting -- scantily-clad and crucified on a "Cross of Love" -- and, unaware of her past, he falls in love. Alas, the shit hits the fan when Kalle re-enters the scene and a convoluted scheme to hoodwink papa goes seriously haywire, exposing the truth to all. Sure, the acting is over-the-top, but it's rooted in an almost shocking level of conviction. Linnanheimo brings a palpable desperation and craziness to her role, as Ritta morphs from wide-eyed naïf to hardened, hysterical sinner, with her solitary shot at redemption and true happiness all too ephemeral. And while Tengström's bullheaded father is desperate to locate wayward Ritta, it's not to rescue her, but instead strangle his whore of a daughter, so the guy is obviously in need of some serious anger management. Tulio pours on this type of exaggerated excess throughout, while giving the proceedings a highly expressionistic style which often borders on kitsch. It's outrageous, ridiculous, yet also utterly sincere in its agenda.
© 2022 by Steven Puchalski.