Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

War without end

Little did I suspect.

Those words have applied to so many strange situations in my odd, weaving path of a life. For example, little did I suspect that when I wandered into Seattle’s Egyptian Theater way back in 1987 that the war movie I would be watching would come back decade after decade to haunt me.

I have told this story before, and you can do a quick catch-up by visiting this blog post from nearly eight years ago. If clicking your mouse (or tapping your touchscreen) is too much of an effort for you, then don’t bother and I will recount it all again now. In 1987 I saw (because at the Seattle International Film Festival that year I saw pretty much every movie they screened) a long, violent, intense movie about Finland’s experiences during World War II. I dashed out a few quick, irreverent lines about the movie on my computer at work (yes, kids, they did have computers back then) because I was dashing out quick lines about every movie I was seeing at the film festival because that was the deal I had made with my boss to get the time off to see all those movies. And then I posted my brief snarky reviews on the office bulletin board (because no, kids, they did not have the world wide web back then), and I assumed that that was the end of that.

But that wasn’t the end of that. Thirteen years later (and five years after I began this movie blog) I dug out a copy of all those 1987 reviews and scanned them and prettied them up and added them to this web site because I had some time because I was kind of stuck at home for a while, helping to mind a new baby. Before long I heard from people who thought I had been rudely insensitive to the Finnish people, notably one correspondent who turned out to be Danish but who had a keen interest in (among other things) Finland’s experience during World War II. It turned out that Claes and I had a lot in common. He was Scandinavian and I was descended from Scandinavians. I loved akvavit and he came from a country that produced akvavit. He was living in Ireland and I was living in Ireland. He had written many books in both Danish and English, both fiction and non-fiction, on a wide variety of topics—and I would eventually finish a book in 2014. Were the two of us separated at birth or what?

It turned out that Claes was extremely qualified to lecture me about Finland and World War II. You could even say that he wrote the book on that subject. And I’m not just using a colloquial expression there. He literally really did actually write the book on Finland and World War II. Twice. Once in Danish and once in English (so far). From what I see on Amazon’s web sites, it is currently available in the UK and will be released in the US in May. Apparently, 29 years after I first walked into that Seattle cinema and watched Rauni Mollberg’s The Unknown Soldier and then totally dissed it (in fairness, I did actually give it one of my highly coveted three-star ratings), Claes must have figured that I might now be mature enough to appreciate the subject of Finland during World War II properly. He got his publisher to send me a preview copy so I could review it online.

Johansen book

I am happy to report that the book, Hitler’s Nordic Ally?: Finland and the Total War 1939-1945, is a good read. Aimed at an audience of normal people—as opposed to strictly academic historical scholars—it sets up the history and context of the situation and explains clearly all the strange twists and turns Finland took to avoid being absorbed into the Soviet Union or occupied by Nazi Germany—and the price that Finns, Russians and Germans all paid in the process. If only I could send this book back in time to the my 1987 self to read before seeing Mollberg’s movie to prevent myself from making a fool of myself. It certainly makes me want to see the movie again now with all the background information fresh in my mind so that I can better appreciate all the political and external events that had led to the series of three wars that Finland fought during that period.

You can read my full review of Claes’s book by clicking on this link here and going to my book blog.

-S.L., 17 February 2016

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