In Adam’s Dress and a Bit in Eve’s Too (1931) A Silent Film Review

This Finnish farce has a simple hook: for much of the film, the cast is short one suit of clothing, chaos ensues. Add to that a boatwreck, an escaped criminal, a young lady with a penchant for early morning calisthenics and a guy with an absurdly high voice and you have yourself some very funny chaos.

Home Media Availability: Released for free streaming

The Naked Truth

In general, I dislike seeing the scaffolding of a motion picture. I don’t like to see the director’s hand too obviously or to be able to predict where things are heading too easily. However, I make an exception with two genres: mysteries and farces.

Well, here’s another nice mess…

While on the surface, these genres may not have a lot in common, they do have one important parallel. The entire point is to watch an elaborate structure being built using familiar pieces and then watching how it all tumbles down. It is very much like those wonderful domino tipping videos. We can easily see what will happen once the first domino is tipped but there is immense satisfaction in watching our expectations fulfilled with, perhaps, a spectacular little surprise at the end.

So, when Inspector Steampipe of Scotland Yard announces that he is going to spend the weekend at his good friend Lord Plumfeather’s country estate, which is occupied by both his ex-wives, his grasping children and the mysterious Mrs. LeStrange from Calais, we know that murder and chaos are inevitable and we don’t mind a bit. And when a young fellow is trying to hide is former lover from his naïve new bride and her meddling mother, we are eagerly anticipating everyone hiding behind the same decorative screen during the grand finale.

A bit of romance, a bit of chaos.

This setup is still popular, as the wild success of Knives Out proves, and I am always ready for something new in the domino-tipping style. So, when a reader recommended this Finnish farce to me, I was delighted to take a look at In Adam’s Dress and a Bit in Eve’s Too (Aatamin puvussa ja vähän Eevankin).

Here, dear reader, are the ingredients we have to work with:

Viirimäki (Kaarlo Saarnio) is a fussy stationmaster vacationing in a remote waterside guesthouse. He realizes to his horror that he has overstayed and will lose his position if he doesn’t leave at once but no boats are scheduled. He is saved when a pair of vacationing chums, furloughed Lieutenant Paavo Kehkonen (Yrjö Tuominen) and civilian Himanen (the popular and perennial Joel Rinne), appear in their motorboat.

Nothing but trouble.

Himanen has a humorously high voice that could easily cause him to be mistaken for a woman. (Broad wink to camera.)

Through a series of mishaps, the boat’s motor dies and Paavo and Himanen must carry the panicked Viirimäki ashore. Naturally, they take off their clothes so that they will not get wet. (Broader wink to camera.)

Once ashore, Viirimäki panics and dashes off to look for a train. While Paavo and Himanen are distracted by his flight, the boat containing their clothes floats away. Worse, it seems they have come ashore in the middle of nowhere with only cows for company.

Ahem, awkward.

After our unfortunate vacationers don leaf kilts, Paavo goes ahead to explore and spots Vikström (Uuno Montonen, giving off a fun Mack Swain vibe), a bandit on the lam. Paavo doesn’t know this, of course, but Vikström is surly and attacks him with a knife. Our robust soldier makes quick work of the bandit (the accompanying title card “Knockout!” cracked me up) and decides to help himself to the latter’s clothing. (Wink, wink, wink!)

Himanen seeks out Paavo, mistakes the newly-nude Vikström for his friend and chases after him. Meanwhile, Paavo is mistaken for Vikström and arrested by the local constabulary. He assures them that there is a very reasonable explanation for everything, relates his adventures… and they believe him.

Night falls and Himanen is freezing. He tries to steal into a house but is chased up a tree by a German Shepherd, only to be rescued by Alli (Elsa Segerberg). He tries to convince her that he is a cat but then decides to pretend that he’s a woman. She lends him some clothing and invites him to spend the night with her. Incidentally, her father is the chief of police and she likes to perform her nighttime calisthenics in the altogether. (Dislodges eyeball with winking.)

Himanen in a borrowed sweater and pleated skirt.

Multiple mistaken identities? Check! A perilous clothing shortage? Check! Cops and robbers? Check! Man posing as woman? Check! I believe that checks all the genre boxes.

So, now you see the dominos all lined up. And if you want to see how the tipping commences, you will have to watch the picture for yourself.

The unfortunate stationmaster who caused all the trouble.

The secret to a good farce is flirtatious teasing that never tips over into vulgarity. It’s a delicate balance that was achieved by greats like Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. The audience must be in on the entendre and feel that they are clever for understanding the references. Farces are fun to watch because the best ones are written with the assumption that the people watching have a brain.

In Adam’s Dress and a Bit in Eve’s Too is a classically-structured comedy of errors that invites the audience to wink along with it. You can see clearly where director Jaakko Korhonen is taking things and it’s delightful to see your predictions proved right.

The look of a man who has absolutely stopped being surprised at his own misfortunes.

The cast is also game, particularly Joel Rinne, who spends the entire film being mercilessly punished for a good deed. His “Oh, sure, why not?” expressions as he lives out Murphy’s Law are priceless. I also liked Yrjö Tuominen’s portrayal of a blustery military officer, he manages to convey the bearing of an army man even when dressed in a leaf skirt and that’s not nothing.

The picture’s other claim to fame is its status as the earliest sound film made in Finland. If you want to be very technical, it’s a limited part-talkie (the brief vocal sequences are dubbed) with synchronized music and sound effects.

Our Mack Swain-esque bandit.

Sound movie experiments began from the birth of film itself with commercial releases attempted as early as 1900 and both the Gaumont and Edison film companies marketed sound pictures in the early 1910s. However, sound was not stable enough to stick until the 1920s and then, it was introduced incrementally. Warner Bros. made a splash with a sound-on-disc synchronized musical score for Don Juan in 1926 and then the part-talkie The Jazz Singer helped launch the talkie revolution. (It should be noted, though, that Fox’s sound-on-film technology was the true wave of the future.)

1929 was the last year of numerous major Hollywood releases that were primarily silent but other nations were slower to embrace sound. Some didn’t have theaters wired for talkies yet. Some had audiences and creators who still liked silent cinema. And so, the transition to sound continued well into the 1930s.

Meow?

The progress of Finland’s embrace of sound is quite typical: start with the easier synchronized music and effects and then move on to full talkies. The film uses the new technology well. Most obviously, Himanen’s high voice would have been difficult (though not impossible) to convey in a silent film. (The dialogue is limited to short singing sequences and the calling of character names.) The picture also makes use of boat motors, taps and bangs to tell the tale, though it should be noted that sound effects were performed live during silent film screenings. All in all, though, the sound effects are suitable and create the right atmosphere.

The kindly and slightly clueless Alli.

All in all, this is a fun farce with a game cast and it makes good use of its technology without letting sound drive the film to the detriment of entertainment. If the idea of assorted Finns dashing around riverbanks in various states of dishabille sounds funny to you, this picture should hit the comedy spot for you.

Where can I see it?

Available for free and legal streaming in HD with its original score on Elonet. It comes with its original Finnish/Swedish bilingual titles and optional English subtitles. (You’ll have to turn them on, they don’t start automatically.)

☙❦❧

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