Light and shadows on the silver screen

Regina Linnanheimo (1915-1995) was passionate about movies from the very get-go: as a girl, she spent her every last penny on going to the cinema. She also had her sister to look up to, for Rakel Linnanheimo was an actress as well as the first Finnish professional model. Regina’s own acting career got started at the age of 15, when her sister could not be in two places at once. Rakel was doing a fashion show, so Regina stood in for her as an actress. Soon after, her talent as an actress in her own right was noted and she landed a speaking role in a 1934 Valentin Vaala comedy. It wasn’t long before Regina Linnanheimo became known as the leading lady for many a historical melodrama and screen adaptation.

During the 1930s and 40s Linnanheimo worked for the Finnish studios SF and Suomi-Filmi, and appeared in several box office hits such as Kulkurin valssi (The Vagabond's Waltz, 1941), Kaivopuiston kaunis Regina (The Beautiful Regina of Kaivopuisto, 1941) and Katariina ja Munkkiniemen kreivi (Catherine and the Count of Munkkiniemi, 1943). These are movies that generation after generation of Finns have seen and loved (for their sense of fake nostalgia, if nothing else), and which gained her enormous popularity. With her dimples and great big eyes, Linnanheimo certainly brought to the productions a measure of glamour, romance and beauty. Her acting skills were not inconsiderable either, and she was awarded the Jussi prize, the Finnish equivalent of an Oscar. 

{mosimage}This is how Linnanheimo describes her life in the July 1938 edition of SF News:-Your main hobby, dear Lady? -The cinema, or SF movies, to be exact.-And your other hobbies? This is a very important question, Miss, for its answer gives the readers a true picture of you. -The cinema, dear Mister interviewer, or SF movies, to be exact. My other occupations – hobbies or pastimes, as you will – are books, languages, music and sports of all sorts, the latter including certain walking-tours to the SF studios in Haaga, swimming, cycling, workouts (that is, standing) with seamstresses for hours, etc. One at a time, of course, and taking into account the demands of the seasons, etc. There are times when I do needlework, clean, and sit in cafés. You could be surest of finding me downstairs at Fazer. As you can see, I am a hopelessly ordinary creature, and cannot think of anything to make me interesting to the readers. Except perhaps for the fact that I forget to greet my acquaintances, and run into passers-by, especially if I am turning a part over in my mind…

However in the late 30s Linnanheimo started feeling the limitations of her roles, and as (a graduate of the Helsinki German School) she spoke fluent German, it seemed reasonable enough to look into launching a career in Germany. She visited the UFA studios in Berlin in 1938 and 1942 and chose for herself scenes out of a script called “Nacht ohne Abschied”. The Germans loved her, and the preparations for the making of the movie got well under way: the studio built new sets, and had costumes sewn to her measurements. Linnanheimo returned to Helsinki to wait for the final call, but meanwhile the tide of the Second World War turned against the Nazis, and the movie was left unmade. Even its test reels have never been recovered from the vaults of UFA. 

 
Teuvo Tulio’s lady and writer
After the war Linnanheimo continued her domestic career as the leading lady in Teuvo Tulio's smouldering melodramas, and later also as the screenwriter of his films. Teuvo Tulio (born Theodor Tugai, 1912-2000) was an independent producer/director who today is recognised as one of few true auteurs of Finnish cinema, and who has a cult status amongst film buffs.

Tulio’s movies typically emphasise melodrama at the expense of more psychological “drama”. More important to Tulio than the authenticity of the material or the internal coherence of the plot was the cinematic flow of emotions. With the use of melodramatic devices, such as light, shadows, and camera angles, he sought to create ever greater emotional charges. From the understanding between Tulio and Linnanheimo emerged great works of art: intense, modern movies, which reach beyond mere symbolism to the very edge of lunacy Together, the two constitute the unsurpassed creative duo of Finnish cinema; their interaction has been compared to that between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and their friendship lasted throughout the years.

The alcoholic melodrama Olet mennyt minun vereeni (You've Invaded My Blood, 1956) was Linnanheimo’s final movie, after which she retired completely from the screen and public life. She had always been one to keep her private life private (we know that she married a Swedish count during the 40s, yet never really lived with him), but with her retirement, she grew even more reclusive. In the end, it was the popular imagination that transformed this leading lady of so many blockbusters in to a myth and a legend. 

 

Photos by Finnish Film Archive