Matti Kassila, Finnish Film Director, Dies at 94

Inspector Palmu's Error - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of SES

He directed four 'Inspector Palmu' movies based on Mika Waltari's fictional character, including the classic 1960 crime comedy 'Inspector Palmu's Error.'

Prolific movie director and writer Matti Kassila, a giant of Finnish cinema who helmed 33 features from 1949-1994, died Friday in his hometown of Vantaa, Finland. He was 94.

His death was announced Monday by Finland's National Audiovisual Institute. Kassila, who saw his 1957 film Elokuu screen in competition in Cannes, was born on Jan. 12, 1924, in the town of Keuruu.

He eventually moved to Helsinki, at first to become a theater actor, but Kassila soon found his calling in front of the camera.

In 1949, he was hired by T. J. Sarkka, then head of Finland's biggest film studio, Suomen Filmiteollisuus, to work as an assistant director on Edvin Laine's comedy Aaltoska Orkaniseeraa.

"Edvin Laine believed in me and took me to T.J. Sarkka at the Suomen Filmiteollisuus company," Kassila recalled during a 2013 lecture to film students at the University of Helsinki. "Edvin had a good nose, and Sarkka hired me at once. I was cutting, mixing, selecting music and reading commentaries for short films, now for Sarkka."

During the next four decades, Kassila made his name directing classics of Finnish literature, including adapting four movies based on Mika Waltari's Inspector Palmu crime series in the 1960s.

The first installment, Inspector Palmu's Error, a crime comedy released in 1960 and starring Joel Rinne and Matti Ranin, is often cited among the best Finnish movies ever made.

Kassila's other film credits include The Radio Commits a Burglary (1951), a crime comedy inspired by Carol Reed's work; Blue Week (1954), a Bergmanesque love triangle; the countryside comedy Hilmanpaivat (1954), based on a novel by Agapetus; and The Red Line (1959), based on a novel by Ilmari Kianto.

Kassila won seven Jussi Awards — Finland's national film honors — during his career, with four coming for directing and another three for writing. In more recent years, he was still writing theatrical screenplays.

In 2011, Kassila received a lifetime achievement Jussi Award.